Officials, family and friends gathered in front of the south-facing steps of the Bulloch County Courthouse at 1 p.m. Monday for the swearing-in of Daphne Jarriel Totten as the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s new district attorney and Catherine Sumner Findley as the county’s new solicitor-general.
Both acknowledged that they are apparently the first women elected as the chief prosecutors for these particular jurisdictions. Both were until recently assistant district attorneys for the circuit under the direction of now-retired District Attorney Richard A. Mallard.
After announcing in February that he would not seek re-election for a new term beginning in 2021, Mallard began his retirement at the end of October. So Totten, who had announced her candidacy in February and ran unopposed in the June 9 Republican primary and the Nov. 3 general election, has been performing the duties of district attorney for the last two months.
Now, after raising her right hand and affirming the oath administered by Bulloch County Probate Court Judge Lorna G. DeLoach, Totten is set to begin her official term.
“I’m really looking forward to being the next district attorney,” she said after the brief ceremony. “I’ve worked in the D.A.’s Office for the last 17 years and I’m hoping to fill some big shoes that Mr. Mallard leaves and continue the legacy that he started.”
He served 18 years as district attorney, almost 30 years with the Ogeechee Circuit D.A.’s Office and a total of 34 years as a prosecutor. Interviewed briefly after Tuesday’s ceremony, Mallard said he was pleased to see these two prosecutors advance in their careers and his former team stay largely intact. He had endorsed Totten, who was then the chief assistant district attorney, as his successor.
“It’s very satisfying to see people that you’ve worked with move up,” Mallard said.
As district attorney, Totten leads an office that also employs 10 assistant district attorneys, four full-time investigators and other personnel, for a total staff of 27 people. The elected district attorney and appointed assistants prosecute cases involving felony charges in the Superior Courts of Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties.
Busy year ahead
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Totten added. “We’ve had a busy year in Bulloch County and around the circuit. A lot of things have happened this past year, so we have a lot of work that lies ahead of us, but we have a great staff and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”
It’s a lot of work to do at a challenging time. After an eight-month COVID-19 statewide ban on empaneling juries, the Ogeechee Circuit successfully convened grand juries this fall in three of the counties, with the fourth scheduled. But actual jury trials have been put on hold again until mid-February under a new state order.
Originally from Tattnall County, Totten graduated from the University of Georgia and then from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. She worked with the Statesboro law firm that was then Edenfield, Cox, Bruce & Classens before joining the District Attorney’s Office in 2003.
Her husband, Dirk Totten, held the Bible that she placed her left hand on while raising her right. Their daughter, Kendall, 4, stood with them, and Daphne Totten’s parents and other family members attended to show support.
With barely a pause, DeLoach then administered the oath of office to Catherine Sumner Findley as solicitor-general of the Bulloch County State Court. The solicitor-general heads the office responsible for prosecuting misdemeanor cases in the single-county court.
Findley won the office by first taking the lead in what was originally a three-person race, over Assistant Solicitor Mark A. Lanier, at that time the only solicitor remaining, and another assistant district attorney, Ben Edwards, in the June 9 Republican primary. Findley then won 53.5% of the votes to Lanier’s 46.5% in an Aug. 11 runoff.
Findley left the D.A.’s Office at the beginning of December and has been serving as assistant solicitor to learn the workings of the solicitor’s office.
“Mr. Lanier was gracious enough to have me come on board a little bit early just to make sure that I was learning the ropes with everything and how the procedural aspects of this job work, so I’ll be able to keep hit the ground running January first,” Findley said.
She grew up in Statesboro and graduated with honors from Georgia Southern University and then from the University of Georgia School of Law. She interned with the district attorneys’ offices in both the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit and the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit.
Since attaining her law degree in 2014, she has worked more than six years as an Ogeechee Circuit assistant district attorney.
Her husband, Spenser Findley, held the Bible for her during the swearing-in ceremony, and their son Sam, age 19 months, was in the audience, as were many extended-family members and supporters.
Akins sworn in
Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch gave the welcoming remarks for the ceremony, and for a separate one at 3 p.m. in which Leslie Deal Akins was sworn in as Bulloch County’s tax commissioner. She succeeds her father, James Deal, who is retiring Thursday after 26 years in the elected office.
Couch also expressed the county government’s appreciation for the work Mallard and Deal have done over the years and wished them well in retirement.
The outdoor gatherings were socially distanced, and most of those attending wore protective masks.