Fani Willis defeats embattled Fulton County DA Paul Howard in a tightly-contested runoff

By Grace Panetta

Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Paul Howard lost re-election to South Fulton Judge and former Deputy District Attorney Fani Willis (first name pronounced Faw-nee), who worked under Howard in the office for several years.

Howard was first elected as the top prosecutor for Georgia's most populous county, which includes the city of Atlanta, in 1996, and as Decision Desk HQ noted, has never faced much serious opposition throughout his tenure. 

But now, Howard has come under serious scrutiny for a number of ethics violations and other controversies associated with his time in office.

He's faced multiple accusations of workplace harassment, with one former employee recently filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against Howard in April 2020, and another female former employee filing a sexual harassment complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Howard has recently admitted to 14 violations of state ethics regulations and agreed to pay a $6,500 fine to the state for failing to properly disclose income from his roles leading two nonprofits.

He's also under a yet-unresolved criminal probe by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating whether he personally, through a nonprofit he was CEO of, pocketed $195,000 of a $250,000 grant given to the DA's office from the City of Atlanta. Howard has denied wrongdoing. 

Willis first joined the Fulton County's District Attorney's office in 2001, according to her campaign website, and worked with the Major Case and Cold Case Divisions for eight years before being promoted to Deputy DA for the Complex Trial Divisions.

There, she worked under Howard on a number of prominent cases before leaving the office for private practice in 2018 and then being appointed as the Pro Tem Chief Municipal Court Judge for South Fulton. She's now arguing that the DA's office needs new leadership. 

In a major upset, Willis was the top vote-getter in the three-way June 9 Fulton County DA Democratic primary, earning 42% of the vote compared to just 35% for Howard and 22% for Christian Wise Smith. If no one candidate earns over 50% in an election in Georgia, the election goes to a runoff between the top-two voter getters. 

Shortly after the primary election, a Black man named Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police in a Wendy's parking lot. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned after Brooks' death, which took place in the middle of nation-wide protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota

Howard quickly announced that his office would charge officer Garret Rolfe with felony murder, aggravated assault, property damage, and a violation of his oath, and would charge officer Devin Brosnan with aggravated assault and violation of his oath. Rolfe is currently out on bond and has sued the city of Atlanta over his firing. 

The relatively quick announcement of the prosecution raised eyebrows, given the timing of the upcoming runoff and Howard's record of not quickly prosecuting other officers accused of similar crimes. 

Willis has lambasted Howard for immediately rushing to charge the officers involved without a more comprehensive investigation first, arguing that the prosecution was politically motivated by his impending runoff election and unlikely to succeed.