Ex-DeKalb commissioner’s criminal trial rescheduled again

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)

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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)

Sharon Barnes Sutton’s attorney could raise questions about her cognitive abilities
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DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton speaks during a meeting in 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton speaks during a meeting in 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton speaks during a meeting in 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The criminal trial of former DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton is now set to begin in August, more than three years after her arrest on federal extortion and bribery charges.

But there will be an interesting new angle at play when the case finally proceeds.

Barnes Sutton — who left office in 2016 — was most recently scheduled to stand trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta next month. But her attorneys requested the date be pushed back, citing concerns about the recent rise of COVID-19′s omicron variant and the former commissioner’s underlying health issues.

Judge Mark H. Cohen granted the extension, one of about half a dozen to date in the case, late last week.

Barnes Sutton’s trial is now slated to begin Aug. 15.

The former commissioner is accused of taking a total in $1,000 in bribes from a subcontractor working for DeKalb County, on a project that documents suggest was the still-ongoing renovation of the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The alleged offenses took place in 2014. Barnes Sutton was not arrested until five years later.

The case was originally slated to go to trial in early 2020 but was rescheduled as Barnes Sutton sought a new court-appointed attorney. Then the pandemic hit, fueling several more delays.

If and when the case does finally go to trial, Barnes Sutton’s attorney may argue that a long-ago health event affected the former official’s cognitive abilities and should be considered when weighing her guilt or innocence.

Last month, federal public defender Mildred Dunn filed a request to submit “expert testimony of defendant’s mental disease, defect, or condition” with the court.

According to Dunn, Barnes Sutton suffered a “thoracic aortic aneurism” and a “lacunar stroke” in 2012, about two years before her alleged crimes took place. The attorney said recent conversations with her client had led her to “fear that the stroke has caused relevant cognitive damage, which must be further explored to effectively represent Ms. Sutton.”

Judge Cohen ordered that Dunn be able to submit testimony about the former commissioner’s health. That filing is currently sealed but is likely to come up at trial.

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