Reed aide Jenna Garland seeks new trial in Atlanta open records case

Jenna Garland, an aide to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, has taken an initial step to appeal her conviction last month on two misdemeanor counts of violating the state's open records law.

Garland’s attorneys filed a motion last week with Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison requesting a new trial. It’s a routine legal move and one that does not prevent Garland from later appealing if the judge does not agree to retry the case.

Garland’s attorneys argue, among other things, that the verdict was contrary to the evidence and faulted the court for its instructions to the jury and for failing to grant a defense motion for a mistrial.

The former Reed press secretary had indicated she would appeal. She faced a looming deadline to file an appeal or seek a new trial.

Scott Grubman, one of Garland’s lawyers, called this “the first step in the appeals process.”

“We look forward to our day in court to argue why we think the verdict is incorrect and should be overturned,” he said.

Garland became the first person charged and convicted of criminally violating the Georgia Open Records Act, a case that observers said could have broad implications for government transparency.

The jury found she instructed a subordinate, Lillian Govus, to delay production of water billing records that were politically damaging to Reed and members of City Council. Morrison sentenced Garland to pay fines totaling $1,500 for the two counts.

The state argued Garland involved herself in requests by Channel 2 Action News for water billing records for Reed’s brother, Tracy, and council members.

She instructed Govus in 2017 via text to “drag this out as long as possible,” and “provide information in the most confusing format available” after Channel 2 requested records related to Tracy Reed. Later, Garland told Govus to “hold all” records until a Channel 2 producer asked for an update on council billing records she requested, even though the records were ready to be released.

Channel 2 had to threaten legal action before the city released the council billing records.

The state opened a criminal investigation into open records practices at City Hall after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 published the text exchanges in March 2018.

“We are pleased a jury has already agreed with us that these actions were in clear violation of the Georgia Open Records Act,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement. “I’m proud of our legal team for their hard work to protect and promote openness and transparency in government, and we will continue to do that.”

The story so far

Guilty verdicts in the open records case against former Kasim Reed press secretary Jenna Garland followed extensive reporting in 2018 over the Reed administration’s efforts to frustrate public records requests. Text messages from Garland to a watershed employee in 2017 directed the employee delay release of water billing records connected to Reed’s brother and city councilmembers. The Georgia Attorney General charged Garland with two misdemeanor counts of violating the Open Records Act, which requires officials to release records in a timely manner and respond within three business days. Garland fought the charges and sought trial in Fulton County State Court. She was convicted Dec. 19 and fined $1,500.

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