- By Dan Klepal The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An Atlanta Municipal Court Judge spent thousands in public money on lavish gifts, a party hosted by former Mayor Kasim Reed and luxurious stationery, including gold-seal letterhead.
Terrinee Gundy, appointed by Reed to the bench in 2013, spent money budgeted for her courtroom on three “flame of excellence” sculptures made of glass that cost a combined $1,800; engraved envelopes and other stationery at a cost of $4,156; and $870 in beverage napkins for a party after Reed’s annual Masked Ball.
The invoice for the sculpture from December shows $150 for a special engraving that read: “Mayor Kasim Reed, Flame of Excellence.”
Gundy’s office also spent $2,558 on 400 tickets and envelopes, which were handed out to people invited to the after-party for the Masked Ball, an elegant social event hosted by the mayor each December to raise money for the United Negro College Fund.
“Judge Gundy would like to know if you all printed event tickets. We need them on the fancier side, as it’s for a city event,” says an Oct. 30 email from Gundy’s assistant to the account manager for the printing company that made the tickets.
The spending was outlined in invoices and emails obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News through a Georgia Open Records Act request.
The Municipal Court is a $20 million operation, funded through the city budget. The spending documents reviewed by Channel 2 and the AJC show that neither Gundy nor any member of her staff sought approval for any of the purchases, nor do they indicate that anyone in the city’s finance department signed off on them.
Gundy did not respond to requests for comment or questions about the appropriateness of the expenditures.
Sources at the court and City Hall say no one is clearly in charge of overseeing the court’s spending.
William Perry, executive director of the taxpayer advocate Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, said the spending was inappropriate regardless of the amounts.
“None of this is related to making government work right, and so it’s an outrage,” Perry said. “No matter what the amount is, this is an abuse of taxpayer dollars. No one is checking on this, so people are abusing the system — even judges.”
Channel 2 and the AJC have previously reported that Gundy is under investigation by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles ethical breaches in the judiciary, for complaints about her being late or absent in her courtroom.
Now Channel 2 and the AJC have confirmed that Gundy’s spending has been incorporated into that probe — and that taxpayers have been billed at least $30,000 from an attorney who is representing her.
Former Atlanta City Attorney Jeremy Berry, who left the city last month, authorized attorney Frank Strickland to work on Gundy’s behalf, in a letter of engagement with him dated March 28. The letter does not mention Gundy by name. It says Strickland is being hired at $600 an hour, “In the matter of a Judge.”
Strickland’s legal bills refer to work reviewing JQC documents, and meeting with JQC executive director Benjamin F. Easterlin IV.
The engagement letter and legal bills were turned over in response to an open records request, asking for documents related to “Frank Strickland or the firm Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP to represent Judge Terrinee Gundy before the State Judicial Qualifications Commission.”
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did not answer questions submitted to her, such as whether Strickland would continue representing Gundy. Instead, Bottoms issued a statement through a spokesman saying: “The decision to provide representation was based upon the recommendation of the former City Attorney.”
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore said she doesn’t understand why taxpayers are paying for Gundy’s lawyer.
“The JQC is like the ethics board for judges,” Moore said. “It seems to me that is something personal.”
Vince Champion, the Southeast Regional Director of the police union, said the mayor’s office wouldn’t hire an attorney for a police officer accused of wrongdoing.
“They wouldn’t give it a second thought,” Champion said.