Judge agrees to reveal records in trial of DeKalb CEO Ellis

Burrell Ellis trial to begin next week

A DeKalb County judge granted a request Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News to make public about 38 documents that have been kept secret in the trial of suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis.

But Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson didn’t follow through Friday, keeping the documents hidden at least until Monday. She hadn’t signed an order by the end of the business day, nearly six hours after she said in court she would unseal the records.

The sealed documents include allegations of contempt of court and violations of court rules requiring disclosure of evidence.

“Given Judge Johnson’s statements from the bench, we certainly hoped the records would be available today,” said Lesli Gaither, an attorney for Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton who represents the AJC.

Prosecutors had sought to seal the records Aug. 22 because of concerns that media reports could taint potential jurors. On Friday, after a jury had been chosen, prosecutors didn’t oppose the AJC’s request to open the documents.

The AJC sought access to the records Monday in a legal filing that said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the public and the press the right to view trial records, and that a hearing should have been held before documents were sealed.

“The United States Supreme Court has emphasized that public access to judicial records and proceedings is critical to the effective functioning not only of the particular proceeding in question, but to our entire system of self-government,” according to the motion.

A clerk said Johnson was busy writing more than a dozen orders and didn’t have time to address the AJC’s motion before the end of the day.

The AJC and Channel 2 are owned by Cox Media Group.

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