For the newly elected district attorney of the Middle Judicial Circuit, Tripp Fitzner, the community is not just a place to go to work—it is his home. Fitzner is originally from Sylvania but now lives locally with his family. He is married to his wife, Jennifer, with whom he shares two boys, Song, 6, and Elic, 5. Jennifer is a teacher at Swainsboro High School, and her parents, Mark and Brenda Price, live locally as well. Tripp and Jennifer Fitzner are both members of First Baptist Church. While he is excited about being the new district attorney, he recognizes the uphill battle ahead. He said, “It is going to take a lot of work to get caught back up and there are no shortcuts. At the same time, we are facing an unprecedented surge in violent crime driven by gang activity in our country. Again, it took a while to get here and it is going to take a while to climb back out.” Despite the challenges, Fitzner trusts that he and his administration will be able to make a difference here.
District Attorney Fitzner does not shy away from hard work. In fact, he seems to welcome it. Fitzner graduated from Georgia Southern with a BBA in Accounting and attended the University of Dayton College of Law. He was admitted to the bar in October 2001. He started his law career as an assistant district attorney in this circuit in 2001 and was the circuit’s first juvenile court prosecutor. During this time, he took on cases other attorneys in the office did not want to try. In September 2005, he was appointed district court administrator for the Eighth Judicial District of Georgia and was the administrative arm of the Superior Courts in 27 counties of this state. In January 2009 when Fitzner began his tenure as chief assistant to Hayward Altman, he was the lead prosecutor in Candler and Emanuel counties, child victim prosecutor, and administrator for the office simultaneously. Just prior to being elected district attorney, Fitzner was the supervising attorney for the Toombs County satellite office, where he has personally written grants for over a million dollars.
Fitzner’s administration has a satellite office in Lyons which presides over cases in both Toombs and Candler counties. That office consists of three attorneys: Jessica Wilson, Chase Sherrod, and Chad Highsmith.
The supervising attorney, Wilson, is from Garfield. She attended law school at John Marshall and was admitted into practice law in 2013.
Sherrod and Highsmith are new additions.
Sherrod, from Midville, is the son of county commissioner Jim Sherrod. He recently graduated from Georgia State Law School and passed the bar exam in October 2020. Prior to passing the bar, Sherrod worked for Fitzner as an intern.
Highsmith, another new addition, is from Jesup. He was assistant district attorney in the Brunswick Circuit and ran the Wayne County district attorney’s office, where he prosecuted general felony cases, including gang prosecutions, prior to joining Fitzner’s team.
Fitzner’s chief assistant is Kelly Weathers. She went to Tulane Law School and was admitted to practice law in 2009. She worked as staff attorney to Judge Kathy Palmer and Judge Robert Reeves before working with Fitzner. Weathers is the team’s main gang prosecutor. She has been involved in the overwhelming majority of murder cases in Emanuel, Jefferson, and Washington counties under former DA Altman.
The team also has another satellite office in Tenille. Weathers is the supervising attorney in Washington and Jefferson counties, where she supervises two other attorneys, Bruna Rodrigues and Sherita Peeler.
Rodrigues is an Emanuel County native. She attended Mercer college and law school. Rodrigues passed the bar October 2020, but she is not a newcomer to Fitzner’s office. She has worked with Fitzner’s team since she was in high school, first working as a receptionist, then a victim advocate and investigator. Fitzner is happy to have her on board and could “not be more proud of her.”
Sherita Peeler also presides over Washington and Jefferson counties. Peeler was a former assistant district attorney in Emanuel County over a decade ago before she left for private practice and became a special assistant attorney general.
For this administration, the Swainsboro office is the main office. This is where Fitzner, three other attorneys, as well as the support staff reside. Adam Nash, who previously worked for former DA Altman, is the juvenile court prosecutor. He is a local, and his wife, Bonnie, works in the library at East Georgia College.
The Emanuel County prosecutor is McKenzie Gray, who worked as an assistant district attorney in the Augusta Circuit, where she ran its gang division. She gains high praise from Fitzner, who says “she is an awesome prosecutor and does a great job.”
Among other changes, Fitzner has implemented a “leadership team.’’ This team consists of District Attorney Fitzner himself, Chief Assistant District Attorney Weathers, Supervising Attorney for Toombs/Candler Counties Wilson, Chief Investigator Allen McCall, and Victim Services Director Donna Moore. This team meets monthly to go over their calendar, track murder cases and other important cases, discuss policy changes, and look at the case count numbers in the counties. Fitzner notes that “this is particularly important with the COVID backlog” so they can keep up with their progress month to month.
Fitzner and his staff have a long road ahead of them, and these initial changes are just a start. He has confidence in his administration, and they are taking the challenges head on. Fitzner explains, “Emanuel County is my home, and I love my home. I am looking forward to doing everything I can, and my staff will do everything they can to make it safer.”
“The mission of the Office of the District Attorney of the Middle Judicial Circuit is to keep our communities safe and to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens, including the accused, through the prompt, fair, and efficient prosecution of criminal offenses with integrity, honor, and the highest degree of professionalism. We must never forget that our ethical and professional duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict.”