MARIETTA — Voters in state House District 41, in south-central Cobb, have received a series of back-and-forth robocalls over one candidate’s history of alleged domestic-violence incidents. In one robocall, the candidate’s wife says she made up all the allegations.
Three Democrats are vying in the primary: sales rep Diana L. Eckles; lawyer Justin O’Dell; and teacher Michael Smith. The primary winner will face Republican Phil Daniell on Nov. 6 to determine who succeeds retiring Democrat Terry Johnson.
According to Cobb Police records, Smith was the suspect in a simple-assault call at his residence last Sept. 27, though the police did not make a report and Smith was neither arrested nor charged.
In January 2006, Smith and his then-girlfriend, who is now his wife, were arrested after fighting each other at his Kennesaw State University campus apartment. According to the KSU Police report, she was arrested on a felony charge of criminal damage to property after breaking a door and then a window in his apartment. He was arrested on a misdemeanor count of criminal trespass after breaking out her car window. Smith performed community service and his case was not prosecuted.
In April 2007, Cobb Police were called to Smith’s residence on Clarion Court in central Cobb regarding a dispute between Smith and his girlfriend. Although the police noted in the report that she accused Smith of pushing her while she was holding their baby son, no arrest was made.
In recent days, a robocall alerted voters to Smith’s situation. The anonymous caller said she was a survivor of domestic violence.
“Mike Smith, who is running for state representative in your district, has been arrested for offenses related to domestic violence. The police have been called on Mike Smith numerous times, as recently as 2011. Michael Smith was arrested for breaking through his girlfriend’s car window. Another time he pushed her into a wall while she was holding her child. I personally know that men like Mike Smith just want more power, more control. I am asking you to help stop bullies like Mike Smith and stand up for victims of violence when you vote in this month’s election.”
Smith’s campaign responded with a robocall recorded by Smith’s wife: “You may get a phone call from one of my husband’s opponents in the state representative race saying that he bullied me six years ago. Well, six years ago I was his immature girlfriend who damaged his property and told lies on him just to get attention. Although extremely embarrassing, the last thing I want is for my husband to pay for the mistakes that I’ve made and the lies that I’ve told as a 19-year-old. At this point in our lives we are happily married, because he forgave me. Michael is a wonderful husband, the best father and would make a great state representative.”
Smith’s wife, who is expecting their third child in December and asked that her name not be published, told the Journal on Thursday that “there have been no domestic incidents or violence or anything of that nature” in the couple’s past and that she had made up all previous allegations. She said she could not recall any incident at KSU.
As for the Cobb Police response last September, she said: “Emergency personnel were called because I was sick and he called them to make sure I was OK. There was no domestic violence incident whatsoever.”
Candidate Smith added: “I’m just going to continue to run a good clean race and stick to the issues and let the voters decide.”
O’Dell said it is “extremely upsetting that Mr. Smith would have his wife publicly take blame.”
“She might claim that she lied, but the police reports and arrest records do not. He admitted to the police that he broke out her window. He admitted to the police that he pushed her in 2007. I have volunteered for the YWCA and represented victims of domestic violence. Sadly, it is quite often the case that the abuser is able to control and manipulate the victim into believing everything is her fault.”
O’Dell said the altercations themselves are disturbing, “particularly from someone who is a school teacher and works with impressionable and innocent young children. This is not an isolated incident or one event from long ago. … It would seem he has no regard for the criminal laws or the rights of others.”
Eckles, the other Democrat in the primary, said she wants no part of the back and forth.
“It’s added an ugly dimension to our race, unfortunately,” Eckles said. “I’ve tried to focus on who I am and what I want to do for the district. That’s what I’m sticking with. It comes down to what type of representative the voters want.”
O’Dell has far out-raised his two opponents. His June 30 campaign report shows contributions of $20,760. He reports donations of $2,500 from Tom Cauthorn, a partner in the Cauthorn, Nohr and O’Dell law firm in Marietta, and $2,000 from the Barnes Law Group. His contributions also included $1,000 each from the law firm of Andrew W. Jones, in Marietta; Gage Continuing Education of Odessa, Fla.; Kennesaw attorney Steve T. Woodman; and the Malone Law Office in Atlanta.
Eckles’ report shows cash donations of $4,523 in the quarter ended June 30, and she loaned her campaign $600. Her largest donation, $1,500, came from Anne Foster, described as a California retiree. Eckles also received $500 from Wilkerson for Cobb, of state Rep. David Wilkerson (D-south Cobb). Eckles is self-employed as a part-time sales representative.
Smith’s campaign-finance report shows he did not receive any donations in the quarter ended June 30, though he loaned his campaign $2,635. He teaches at an east Cobb Middle School.