Ethics hearing for former DeKalb commissioner postponed

Sharon Barnes Sutton had raised concerns about impact on criminal trial
Former DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton walks toward DeKalb County Courthouse for a hearing by Judge Asha Jackson in February 2017. Sutton has filed a lawsuit alleging that the DeKalb Board of Ethics is unconstitutional because some of its members are appointed by community organizations instead of by elected officials. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

Former DeKalb Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton walks toward DeKalb County Courthouse for a hearing by Judge Asha Jackson in February 2017. Sutton has filed a lawsuit alleging that the DeKalb Board of Ethics is unconstitutional because some of its members are appointed by community organizations instead of by elected officials. (HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM)

An ethics hearing involving former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton has been postponed, a few days after the former official raised concerns about its potential impact on her looming federal criminal case.

Two longstanding cases against Barnes Sutton — a 2014 complaint accusing her of misusing a county purchasing card and a 2016 complaint accusing her of improperly accepting “in-kind memberships” to a local YMCA — had been scheduled for a Wednesday night hearing in front of DeKalb’s ethics board, which has the authority to issue censures, reprimands and fines against county employees and elected officials.

Stacey Kalberman, the county’s ethics officer, confirmed Monday that the Barnes Sutton hearing had been postponed “for several reasons” and would be rescheduled, but declined to provide more details.

The timing, though, coincides with a motion that attorney Dwight Thomas filed last week on behalf of the former commissioner.

In a request for DeKalb County Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson to issue a temporary restraining order against the ethics board, Thomas argued that, if Barnes Sutton testified or provided evidence to defend herself from ethics charges, it could compromise her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in federal court.

Barnes Sutton is currently scheduled to stand trial on federal extortion and bribery charges early next year. Her ethics charges are not directly tied to her criminal case, but Thomas wrote in his new motion that they “were in fact investigated by the FBI and are part of the overall discovery provided” in the federal case.

The attorney cited a statute saying federal prosecutors could be allowed to use “evidence of any other crime, wrong or act” to establish “proof of motive, opportunity, intent” or other similar factors in the criminal case.

With the ethics board hearing cancelled for now, Thomas has filed a motion to withdraw his request for a restraining order.