Burrell Ellis appeal accuses DeKalb judge of abusing discretion

Attorneys for imprisoned former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis are accusing the judge who presided over his trial last summer of abusing her judicial discretion by putting arbitrary limits on his defense.

A motion filed with the Georgia Court of Appeals on Friday lists the times DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson ruled against Ellis. His lawyers wrote that Ellis should have been granted an appeal bond because it was likely his conviction would be overturned because Johnson’s rulings were mistakes.

Ellis was sentenced to 18 months in prison on July 8 after being convicted of trying to force a county vendor to make a contribution to his re-election campaign by threatening the vendor's contract. Ellis also was found guilty on three counts of lying to a special purpose grand jury looking into county corruption.

Ellis has been notified that he could be paroled in March. He remains suspended without pay.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a response to Ellis’ motion that the state Court of Appeals overturn Johnson’s decision to deny him an appeal bond while he fights his conviction.

The court document lists several occasions when the judge ruled incorrectly against Ellis, according to his lawyers.

  • Johnson would not let Ellis' lawyers call vendors who would testify that the suspended CEO never threatened them with the loss of their county contracts, even though they did not give money to his 2012 re-election campaign.
  • Johnson would not let Ellis explain his answers to the special purpose grand jury's questions, even though those answers were the basis for perjury charges.
  • Johnson would not let him tell the jury what he believed to be his duties as the county's chief executive officer.
  • The judge refused to let Ellis claim the special purpose grand jury exceeded the scope of its investigation, according to the 2012 court order creating the grand jury. He also wanted to argue that prosecutors misled him about the reason he was called to answer the special grand jury's questions.

Johnson denied Ellis a bond, saying her rulings were “legally sound” and his appeal “would be frivolous and taken only for the purpose of delay.”

Other courts have ruled that an appeal bond can be granted if there are legitimate issues to be appealed.

“The Superior Court severely curtailed Mr. Ellis’ ability to present a complete defense,” Ellis’ lawyers wrote.