Jenna Garland (left) watches one of her attorneys, Scott Grubman, as the court discusses guidelines for jury selection which began Monday in the first-ever criminal prosecution of an alleged violation of the Georgia Open Records Act. Jenna Garland, a former press secretary to ex-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, is accused of ordering a subordinate to delay the release of water billing records requested by Channel 2 Action News that were politically damaging to Reed and other city elected officials. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Jury picked, opening arguments start Tuesday in Atlanta records case

This story has been updated with information revealed at trial.

Opening statements will start Tuesday in the trial of the first person ever charged criminally for alleged violations of Georgia’s public records law.

On Monday, prosecutors with state Attorney General Chris Carr’s office and defense lawyers for Jenna Garland picked a jury of six and one alternate to weigh the case after a daylong selection process.

Garland, a former press secretary for ex-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of violating the Georgia Open Records Act. The state alleges Garland ordered a subordinate in 2017 to delay the release of records to Channel 2 Action News, including water billing records the station requested at the addresses of top city elected officials.

The GBI opened a criminal investigation in March 2018 after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 published text messages showing Garland ordered Lillian Govus, the then-communications chief in the city’s watershed department, to “be as unhelpful as possible,” “drag this out as long as possible,” and “provide information in the most confusing format available.”

Garland later instructed Govus to “hold all” records until a Channel 2 producer contacted Govus for an update on the requested records. Those text exchanges form the basis for the two criminal citations.

State law requires public agencies to respond to records requests from the public within three days and provide records as soon as they are available. It is a misdemeanor for an official to “to knowingly and willingly frustrat(e) or attempting to frustrate the access to records by intentionally making records difficult to obtain or review.”

The city dragged its feet for weeks, only releasing records under the threat of legal action by Channel 2.

The prosecution and defense peppered a panel of 40 potential jurors for several hours before Fulton County State Court Judge Jane Morrison. That group was winnowed down to a jury of four men and two women. A third woman was selected as an alternate.

The state said its goal is to present its case Tuesday with the defense likely to present its side on Wednesday.

Morrison also denied a defense motion and ruled that the state can call a journalism professor from the University of Georgia to explain to the jury the trade of journalism and how and why reporters use the state’s records law to do their jobs.

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