Greg Hecht, Democratic nominee for Georgia Attorney General, spoke at length with the GA Voice on his support of same-sex marriage, and he had strong words for his Republican opponent and current Attorney General Sam Olens regarding a memo his office failed to release during an ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Hecht confirmed that, if elected, he would not defend Georgia’s 2004 same-sex marriage ban, saying, “The Georgia law violates peoples’ right to share in the freedom to marry. It discriminates against people and is unconstitutional. Over 20 courts nationwide have determined the law to be unconstitutional and the attorney general is wasting tremendous resources defending discrimination, ignoring corruption and not doing his job. We would not defend [the ban] and we would put money into prosecuting corruption and put resources into protecting children.”

Hecht also confirmed that he believes in marriage equality both from a constitutional perspective in his potential capacity as attorney general, and personally as a citizen.

When asked if he had always supported marriage equality or had “evolved” on the issue like many other politicians have phrased it, the candidate said, “Most of us have evolved and know that it is a law that discriminates and we have evolved into understanding that this discrimination should not stand.”

Sam Olens

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens (screenshot via YouTube)

‘Personal choices’ excerpt in Olens brief raises questions

A reader brought to our attention an excerpt from Attorney General Olens’ motion to dismiss Inniss v. Aderhold, the federal class action lawsuit attempting to strike down Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban.

“The State … respects the important, intimate, and personal choices that Plaintiffs have freely made,” the brief states. “But the U.S. Constitution does not convert every ‘important, intimate, and personal decision’ into a fundamental right immune from the democratic process.”

This brought into question whether Olens was referring to the plaintiffs’ choice to seek to get married, or that they chose to be gay.

When asked to clarify, Olens’ spokesperson Lauren Kane said, “The brief was strictly referring to the family-related choices Plaintiffs have made and seek to make.”

When pressed further to clarify what “family-related choices” specifically means, she said, “The reference in the brief was simply made to convey respect for the Plaintiffs and their decisions regarding marriage and children.”

However, Kane refused to confirm whether or not Olens believes sexual orientation is a choice, saying, “The Attorney General’s personal views are not relevant to his official responsibility to defend the law.”

Hecht was direct when asked the same question. “We do not believe it’s a choice,” he said.

Olens memo controversy led to Hecht’s gay marriage support announcement

Olens is embroiled in a controversy concerning a memo he failed to disclose during an ethics investigation of Gov. Nathan Deal. In the July 2012 memo, obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (see below), state ethics commission director Holly LaBerge says she was threatened and pressured by Deal’s office to make the case against him go away.

LaBerge claims that while she was on vacation, Deal’s chief counsel Ryan Teague said to her over the phone, “It was not in the agency’s best interest for these cases to go to a hearing … nor was it in their best political interest either.”

And the memo states that Deal’s chief of staff Chris Riley allegedly texted LaBerge, “So since you are at the beach, with your feet in the sand and probably something cold to drink. Does this mean we can resolve all DFG (Deal for Governor) issues by Monday? :)”

Olens’ office says LaBerge did not give them the memo until August 2013, but it was still never released as part of the investigation and only surfaced once the AJC made an Open Records Request for it.

LaBerge’s attorney Lee Parks also alleges that Olens’ office instructed LaBerge not to mention the memo during testimony in several whistleblower lawsuits filed by former ethics commission employees. Kane, Olens’ spokeswoman, denied this allegation to the AJC.

Olens’ office released an attempt to explain their withholding the memo, saying it was “not responsive to the discovery request in the civil litigation,” but that claim has drawn skepticism from legal experts.

Hecht cited the memo controversy as one reason for the timing of his announcing support for marriage equality, telling the GA Voice, “The memo showed coercion from the top. At this point in time, with that memo and the attorney general making the case for a law that has been struck down in 20 cases, we felt it was time to say the attorney general was being political, non-substantive and not fighting corruption.”

Hecht claims Olens did a “disservice” to the people of Georgia by sitting on the memo, saying, “And what’s the result? Three million dollars of tax money spent on four whistleblower cases, a lack of the underlying investigation ever being performed and an erosion of public confidence in the ability of government to police corruption at all.

“We have to put justice above politics and right now the attorney general’s office is putting politics above justice.”

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders

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