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Independent Yalamanchili Submits Signatures to Challenge DA Gonzalez

Defense attorney and former prosecutor Kalki Yalamanchili and his team of supporters have collected 14,000 signatures, more than enough for him to qualify as an independent in the race for district attorney this fall. 

At a Monday afternoon press conference, Yalamanchili said he had presented the signatures to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office earlier in the day. The deadline is July 9.

Georgia law says an independent candidate needs physical signatures—not electronic ones—from 5% of registered voters in the Western Circuit to be included on a ballot. In five to seven weeks, Yalamanchili will learn whether the signatures are deemed acceptable.

Clarke County registered voters counted for 9,000 signatures, and Oconee for 5,000. With about 70,000 registered voters in Clarke and 30,000 in Athens, Yalamanchili needs about 5,000 to meet the 5% threshold to get on the November ballot as an independent. But candidates need to gather more than the minimum because some signatures will likely be thrown out, because the signer doesn’t live in the circuit or isn’t registered or for some other reason.

“I’m just grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve gotten,” he said. “I’m humbled.” 

Yalamanchili said he hired a company in May for $120,000 that did data validation and full-time signature collection, which meant he could concentrate completely on campaigning. In his most recent campaign finance disclosure, filed with the state on May 7, he reported raising a whopping $367,000 and had $275,000 on hand. Incumbent Deborah Gonzalez reported raising $78,000 and spending $33,000 during the same period. 

Having worked under former district attorney Ken Mauldin and as a prosecutor in Cobb County, Yalamanchili said he has learned how to run an effective and efficient operation. He left the DA’s office in 2018 and set up a private practice in downtown Athens. In addition to prosecuting cases, he has gained experience defending clients. 

He thought about running for DA while on vacation in 2022, but a family member’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment consumed him. Last summer, with the situation resolved, he decided to move forward. “The cancer made me think about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do professionally,” he said. 

Yalamanchili would have had an easier time getting on the ballot if he ran against Gonzalez in the Democratic primary or as a Republican. “The district attorney’s office is not a place for partisanship,” he said. 

Despite having no experience in criminal justice, Gonzalez won the DA’s race in 2020 on promises not to prosecute low-level drug offenses and to focus on restorative justice over punishment for nonviolent criminals. Since then, her office has been chronically short-staffed, and she’s suffered a number of high-profile defeats in the courtroom.

The office currently is “non-functional,” Yalamanchili said, with an inadequate number of staff members, little experience among attorneys and a failure of leadership. Gonzalez has blamed the problems in her office on low pay for assistant DAs and on attacks by Republicans.