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Criminal charges still possible for Atlanta public records violations

Although the city of Atlanta has agreed to reform how it handles public records requests, current and past employees could still face criminal charges for violations of Georgia’s Open Records Act, according to a Friday letter from state Attorney General Chris Carr.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News filed a civil complaint with the Carr’s office in April alleging that the city had engaged in systemic violations of the state’s open records law.

After months of negotiations, the city and the two news organizations signed agreement settling the dispute earlier this week. The parties agreed to collaborate in drafting a policy for the city that goes further in releasing records than state law requires.

In his letter, Carr says that mediation talks with the city and news outlets — overseen by the attorney general’s office — appeared to have resulted “in significant structural changes in the way that the city will respond to Open Records Act requests.”

But Carr said in a letter to former attorney general Sam Olens, who represented the city, that the state hadn’t waived its right to proceed with charges against current and past employees in a separate criminal investigation.

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The AJC and Channel 2 have reported extensively on what legal experts said revealed potentially criminal  behavior within former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration. His administration delayed production of public records. Former City Attorney Jeremy Berry has acknowledged that he created documents that he represented as legal invoices in a response to an AJC records request last year, but he argued the law allowed him to do so. The reporting prompted a Georgia Bureau of Investigation criminal probe. Those findings were turned over to Carr’s office last month for potential prosecution.

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