DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, with his wife Philippa, and defense attorney Craig Gillen, speaks during a press conference Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, for the first time since he was convicted a year and a half ago following a second trial in DeKalb County. The Georgia Supreme Court threw out Ellis’ guilty verdicts on Wednesday. KENT D. JOHNSON/
Photo: Kent D. Johnson
Photo: Kent D. Johnson

How DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis spent $755K on his defense

The $755,000 in taxpayer money being paid to former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis compensates him for hiring six law firms along with other expenses such as jury consulting, expert testimony and private investigations.

A breakdown of Ellis’ legal costs was revealed this week in 152 pages of government records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act.

Ellis will be reimbursed for his legal expenses after the Georgia Supreme Court overturned his convictions in November and DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston dropped charges of attempted extortion and perjury in February.

The DeKalb County district attorney announced Monday that she will not prosecute former county CEO Burrell Ellis after a Supreme Court judge over turned his conviction.

Georgia law authorizes repayment of legal costs when a government official is found not guilty or charges are dismissed. The DeKalb Commission approved the payout last month.

Ellis’ expenses added up over a four-year saga that included two trials, a guilty verdict, eight months in prison and a successful appeal.

Ellis’ biggest cost — nearly $600,000 — came from paying a team of lawyers. 

Ellis and his legal defense fund paid $406,755 to the firm of lead attorney Craig Gillen, according to county records. Another $191,040 went to the firms of attorneys Dwight Thomas, John Petrey, Kemay Jackson, J. Tom Morgan and Nicole Thomas.

The records indicate Ellis paid flat fees for the lawyers’ services rather than hourly rates.

Besides compensating Ellis for his actual legal costs, DeKalb’s government also paid interest on the money he spent at a rate of 7 percent per year. With expenses dating to January 2013, the interest payments to Ellis amounted to $115,539.

The costs of jury consulting, court transcripts, independent investigations, bonding out of jail, probation and other expenses added up to $40,859.

Ellis and his wife paid most of the legal expenses out of their own pocket, but his supporters also set up a legal defense fund to help out. The records show that fund contributed at least $104,302 to Ellis’ cause.

Ellis must reimburse those unnamed donors from the money distributed to him by DeKalb’s government, according to the payout agreement approved by the DeKalb Commission. If Ellis can’t find donors or fails to pay them back, the county will recover that money from him.

In addition to legal expenses, DeKalb’s government previously paid Ellis $223,000 for wages that had been withheld from the time he was convicted in July 2015 to when he was reinstated for the last few days of his four-year term in December 2016.

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