Marietta law firm files open records lawsuit against Cobb

A Marietta law firm has filed an Open Records Act lawsuit against Cobb County, saying the Sheriff's Office is denying it access to recordings of courtroom proceedings.

The suit, filed Tuesday, said the county has changed its practices by imposing unjustified fees and charges to deter the Merchant Law Firm and other members of the public from obtaining the recordings.

The lawsuit comes a week after attorney Ashleigh Merchant asked Cobb Superior

Marietta lawyer Ashleigh Merchant

Court Judge Reuben Green to recuse himself from a case because he had discussed it privately with prosecutors before the trial.

"Hopefully, this jury does the right thing," Green can be heard telling prosecutors. Green could also be heard giving the prosecutors advice on trial strategy and talking about other cases.

Days later, jurors found Tomdrick Cromer guilty of armed robbery. He was sentenced to life without parole.

Merchant, who now represents Cromer, obtained the recording of Green's conversation with prosecutors from the Sheriff's Office, which records courtroom proceedings with a security video system.

Since then, the lawsuit said, Merchant has encountered resistance when filing Open Records Act requests for other recordings of court proceedings. In one case, a member of the Sheriff's Office said the recordings are only retained for 15 to 30 days, the suit said.

During an exchange of emails involving another request, Robert Quigley, director of the Sheriff's Office, told Merchant that because it involved "security video," a deputy needed to review it to "identify and extract anything that can be adversely impact security," the suit said.

The charge for such a review would be $25.64 a hour, Quigley said.

Marietta lawyer John Merchant

On March 3, Merchant's husband and law partner, John Merchant, emailed Quigley and asked him to reconsider the office's position. Merchant noted that the office had not objected to providing the tapes previously and that the office's exception "did not apply to open court proceedings that members of the public had a right to view." He also called the fees "excessive and unwarranted."

The suit seeks a court order granting the law firm access to the recordings it has requested and to bar the county from  violating the Open Records Act.

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About the Author

Bill Rankin
Bill Rankin
Bill Rankin covers criminal justice, the death penalty and legal affairs. He also hosts the AJC’s “Breakdown” podcast.