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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State Rep. Robin Shipp resigns

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A Democrat state representative serving the Reynoldstown, Cabbagetown and west DeKalb neighborhoods resigned from office today, citing concerns that her new job as a Fulton County prosecutor presented a conflict of interest under Georgia law.

Robbin Shipp, who's served one term in the Georgia General Assembly, submitted her resignation to Gov. Sonny Perdue this morning.

Georgia law prohibits lawmakers from also working in state government. The Fulton County district attorney's office is an arm of the state's judicial branch.

Shipp joined the DA's office as a senior assistant district attorney in October 2008 after serving as Grady Health System's general counsel. At the time, she says, both she and DA Paul Howard inquired with the State Bar of Georgia if her dual roles as prosecutor and state representative posed a conflict of interest. She says the state bar issued unofficial opinions that said she was in the clear.

During the legislative session, however, Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office raised concerns with Howard about her service in the General Assembly.

"Mr. Howard then requested an opinion from the attorney general," Shipp says. "And at that point, I initially went on vacation and then leave-without-pay [from the DA's office] pending the conclusion of the session."

Last week, the AG's office released an unofficial opinion to Howard saying it thought Shipp's dual service violated state law. It's not unusual for lawmakers to work for municipal governments — Rep. Wendell Willard is city attorney for Sandy Springs and there have been city cops in the Statehouse before — as along as they don't hold another elected office, but

"Economic times being what they are, I have an obligation first and foremost to my child, of course, and making sure I take care of her, so I had to choose to resign from the General Assembly," Shipp told CL. She says it was an honor to represent her constituents and hopes her successor will serve "honestly and courageously."

Shipp doesn't think any legislation she sponsored would be affected by her decision or the conflict of interest.

"Let's be very clear on this," Shipp says. "I can't remember 100 percent. But I do know in more than one instance there was a piece of legislation that was on the floor for a vote and I abstained from voting on it because I felt it to be a direct conflict...in consideration of the fact that I'm in the prosecutor's office."

There's also that whole being-a-Democrat-in-a-Republican-controlled-Legislature thing.

"I'm in the minority party, sweetie," Shipp says laughing. "We don't get much legislation passed in the House."

The governor will now transmit the notice to Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. A special election is expected to be held in November.

(Photo courtesy Robbin Shipp)

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