Accusations fly in DeKalb grand jury dispute

An already heated dispute over a sealed DeKalb County special grand jury report escalated this week with allegations that the district attorney’s office sought to humiliate a judge by trying to serve him a subpoena while he sat on the bench.

The unusual incident occurred as Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott was presiding over jury selection for a criminal trial. The DA’s office’s deputy chief investigator, W.C. Nix, was allowed into the courtroom after he flashed his badge to a deputy, court filings said.

Nix sought to give Scott a subpoena to appear at a hearing this Friday, in which another DeKalb judge will consider a lawsuit filed against Scott by members of the special grand jury who want their report to be made public. When Nix told Scott’s staff he had papers to serve the judge, Scott ordered Nix out of the courtroom. Nix then gave the subpoena to a member of Scott’s staff, said a motion filed Tuesday by the judge’s attorney.

A potential juror, public defenders, a prosecutor and court personnel were in the courtroom when Nix entered, the motion said, adding that Nix would not have been allowed inside if he had not shown his badge.

“The manner of service of the subpoena upon Judge Scott was highly unprofessional and unbecoming and intentionally undignified and harassing,” Atlanta attorney Gary Freed wrote. Nix entered the courtroom by “subterfuge and deceit” and the DA’s office was trying to “harass and vex Judge Scott in an intentionally humiliating way.”

Erik Burton, a spokesman for District Attorney Robert James, said Wednesday the office had no comment.

The legal wrangling stems from a report prepared by a special purpose grand jury that looked into possible corruption in county water and sewer contracts.

The report has remained under seal since Scott issued an order to allow lawyers for DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and consultant Kevin Ross to view the report before it is published. DeKalb investigators have searched both men’s offices and homes looking for evidence of corruption, warrants said. Ellis and Ross have not been charged and deny any wrongdoing.

Scott ruled that the lawyers could view the report to give them the opportunity to ask for any inappropriate passages to be redacted before the report is made public.

The DA’s office appealed Scott’s ruling to the Court of Appeals, which declined to hear it. The office is now asking the Georgia Supreme Court to strike down Scott’s decision.

In March, members of the special grand jury, represented by the DA’s office, sued Scott, contending he should make the report public.

Before filing suit, grand jury foreman Albert Trujillo and secretary Catherine Scheffer wrote Scott and reminded the judge they had given up a year of their time to serve on the grand jury.

“We made recommendations for the betterment of DeKalb County and believe that this information needs to be made public without delay,” they wrote.

The subpoena served on Scott this week seeks his testimony Friday before Superior Court Judge Dan Coursey, who was assigned the grand jurors’ case.

Scott should not be required to testify, said the motion filed by his lawyer. “Judge Scott may not be questioned about the mental processes he employed in supervising the (special purpose grand jury’s) investigation.”