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A Surprise Encounter

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In Small-Town Georgia, Two Alums Duke It Out in Court

In all of rural Dooly County, population 12,000, a tiny southern Georgia enclave, there’s only one stoplight. High school football is the talk of the town, and only one or two grocery stores dot the secluded landscape. These quiet country back roads, two hours from Atlanta, were the last place that Deshala Dixon Bray ’04, Dooley County assistant district attorney, expected to encounter a fellow graduate. But when she was sworn into the Georgia state bar two years ago, standing there was Jason Carini,’05, another new Boston transplant. Carini had also recently been hired, as an assistant public defender for the Cordele Judicial Court, which encompasses Dooly County. “It’s pretty ironic that two Yankees who went to law school together duke it out everyday in our small Southern courthouses,” says Bray.

Bray had just spent a year in Boston as assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and moved south to be with her husband, Agis Bray, public defender for a neighboring county. It was “the middle of nowhere,” she says, where one-fourth of the population lives below the poverty line. Nevertheless, Bray found that the small court gave her opportunities unavailable in a larger urban setting, such as presenting felony cases to the grand jury.

In the meantime, Carini had left his position with the Rhode Island public defense office, lured by the recruiting efforts of Georgia’s newly formed Public Standards Council. “I saw the chance to make a difference,” says Carini, who today handles more than 80 percent of the county’s criminal work, including trying cases in speeding, drug offences, burglary, and other felony obstructions. “It’s an incredible volume of cases for a young trial attorney.”

The Cordele Judicial Circuit comprises four counties, the largest of which has 22,000 people, and is “culturally and legally a different world,” says Bray. Some of the county cases include charges against a woman who stole more than $10,000 worth of live hogs and a group of rebellious teens who broke into the local cotton museum. The sheriff’s department is the main legal governing body because so much of the county is unincorporated and jury selection is complicated by close relationships—“everyone seems to be related,” says Bray.

 “The legal community is not very large,” says Carini, who often hangs out with Bray after hours. He laughs. “To the extent that a prosecutor and public defender can get along, we’ve definitely become friends.”

—Cindy Atoji