Gwinnett County District Attorney candidate Patsy Austin-Gatson is no stranger to a courtroom.
Austin-Gatson, who is one of the Democrats running for district attorney this year, has a lengthy resume with 30 years of experience as an attorney. That includes stints working for the state of Georgia, as a private attorney and more recently for Gwinnett County’s solicitor’s office.
Now she wants to parlay that experience into a new chapter as she runs for the county’s top prosecutor job.
“It took a while (to decide to run),” Austin-Gatson said. “I did a lot of research, thought about it, prayed about it and just felt like a lot of things that I’ve experienced in my law career has come to a point where it’s kind of coming to a confluence where I see that a lot of the things I’ve experienced, I can apply to the position of district attorney.”
After Austin-Gatson got her undergraduate degree from Syracuse University, she pursued her law degree at Emory University. She did an internship at the Brooklyn N.Y. district attorney’s office while she was a student at Emory.
After she graduated from Emory, Austin-Gatson went on to spend several years working in the Georgia Attorney General’s Office — even getting to argue a case before the state Supreme Court in her first year out of law school — before going into private practice.
She moved to Gwinnett County nearly 22 years ago after marrying her husband, and joined the Gwinnett Solicitor’s Office after Solicitor General Brian Whiteside took office last year.
Austin-Gatson talks about the way she believes the District Attorney’s Office should work in terms of making philosophical changes in the way the office approaches its job.
“We really need to be better as a community and not just look at a prosecutor’s office just as a means and a way to incarcerate,” she said. “We have to look at it differently.”
Some of that change include early intervention efforts to engage young people and encourage them to not make bad choices in their lives, to not join gangs and to steer them away from the criminal justice system.
“That’s one major pedestal that I want to base my tenure on as a DA: work really hard toward not having young people come into the criminal justice system,” Austin-Gatson said. “And (for) the ones that have, unfortunately, come through the system, we have to have a means and a better way so they can gain re-entry into society and not be recidivists.”
Austin-Gatson points to an experience she had as a young girl as an example of the positive influence early intervention can have on young people.
In Austin-Gatson’s case, it involved firemen who visited her school.
“I can distinctly remember firemen coming in and talking to us, and of course none of us smoked, but the firemen said ‘If you don’t smoke, don’t start,’ “ she said. “And none of the kids were smoking, you know, but I always thought about that. I had smokers in my family and I never became a smoker and I attribute some of that back to just hearing that message at a very young age. I think the same thing can happen as far as crime prevention.”
Austin-Gatson said the District Attorney’s Office should take steps to undercut efforts by gangs to recruit young children barely out of elementary school. Gangs are now buying kids book bags and other items as part of their recruitment efforts, she said.
“Once a gang does that, what happens is then they tell kid, ‘Well, now you do this for us,’” Austin-Gatson said. “That’s not acceptable in our society. We have to do better.”
Other parts of that change Austin-Gatson wants to bring to the District Attorney’s Office includes being involved in the community and engaging community partners, such as local churches and community service agencies, and creating citizens taskforces to reduce crime.
“That’s one thing,” Austin-Gatson said. “I will not just be sitting in an office. I will be interacting with the community in order just to make sure we keep our community safe.
“I think with Gwinnett County being the most diverse county in the southeast, there’s an even higher calling to make sure that this county stays safe (and) that we do the right things for our county.”
Austin-Gatson’s website can be found at patsy4da.com.