On September 20, 2023, a restitution hearing was scheduled in the case of State v. C. Austin. The hearing was scheduled to commence at 3:30 p.m. before the Honorable Lawton E. Stephens. The assigned Assistant District Attorney was Tab Hunter, formerly of the Athens-Clarke County District Attorney’s Office.
It appears Mr. Hunt was approximately ten (10) minutes late to the hearing due to his participation in a “Zoom Call”. Mr. Hunter provided no other explanation as to why he was late. In response, Judge Stephens stated “Well, I expect you to be here on time, Mr. Hunter, and maybe you should’ve ended your Zoom call a little bit early and come down to court like you were supposed to.”
The following day, DA Gonzalez found it appropriate to accost Judge Stephens and accuse him of being the reason why Mr. Hunter resigned. She suggested Judge Stephens show more “grace” to her Assistant District Attorneys despite the fact they are hired as seasoned professionals. Ms. Gonzalez does not understand the problem with her office staff fail to appear on time or don’t properly subpoena witnesses.
Judge Stephen correctly noted that lawyers who represent the State of Georgia are expected to have at least a minimum amount of competence in the law. If a hearing was scheduled in July to occur in September, the District Attorney’s office should have plenty of time to subpoena witnesses. Failure to do so should result in the District Attorney’s office being held accountable. As the person in charge, Ms. Gonzalez acknowledged she should personally be held accountable.
Specifically, Judge Stephens pointed out that attorneys from the District Attorney’s office under the supervision of Ms. Gonzalez have appeared in front of him not subpoenaing witnesses, not subpoenaing witnesses for restitution hearings, and not knowing who their witnesses are for Jackson-Denno hearings.
When Ms. Gonzalez complained about the high turnover in her office, Judge Stephens stated “there’s a lot of reasons why people are
quitting from your office and it’s not because they’re being treated rudely in court. It’s for a lot of other reasons.
The final comments from Judge Stephens were as follows: “Right. All right. So my suggestion to you — and this is my final comment — is that you look to yourself before you blame other people for all the issues that you’re facing in the district attorney’s office. And that’s my final comment. Thank you”.
In response, DA Gonzalez made a private post on her Facebook that was derogatory and unprofessional. More importantly, it does not align with the transcripts from court.
Transcript for colloquy between Judge Stephens and Ms. Gonzalez.
Transcript for colloquy between Judge Stephens and Tab Hunter concerning his tardiness for a scheduled hearing due to a “Zoom Call”.
Transcript for colloquy between Judge Stephens and Tab Hunter concerning his failure to do pickup order for inmate and subpoena witnesses.
Transcript for colloquy between Judge Stephens and Tab Hunter concerning his failure to subpoena witnesses.