DeKalb CEO wants sanctions against the DA’s office

DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis escalated his legal battle with the District Attorney’s Office Wednesday as his lawyers asked a judge to impose sanctions against the office for alleged misconduct.

The motion, filed jointly with Ellis’ former campaign manager, Kevin Ross, accused the DA’s office of violating a court order in filings before the Georgia Court of Appeals when it allowed court records that had previously been placed under seal to be made public.

“The clear and systematic violations by the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office of this court’s sealing order demonstrated a reckless disregard for a lawful order of this court, not to mention the privacy interests of (Ellis and Ross),” the motion said.

The filing seeks unspecified sanctions. It asks Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott to hold a hearing to give the DA’s office the opportunity to show why it shouldn’t be punished.

DA Robert James declined to comment, his spokesman said.

During a recent court hearing, however, James said he may seek sanctions against Ellis’ and Ross’ attorneys on behalf of members of a special-purpose grand jury that has been investigating possible corruption in DeKalb. James accused lawyers for Ellis and Ross of making “misrepresentations of fact.”

Wednesday’s court filing by Ellis’ and Ross’ lawyers comes at a time when a separate criminal investigation is looking at the two men, according to court filings. In January, investigators searched the homes and offices of Ellis and Ross, and search warrants say the investigators were looking for evidence of fraud, bribery and other political corruption.

Both Ellis and Ross deny any wrongdoing, and they have not been charged with any criminal conduct.

The probe by the special-purpose grand jury into possible corruption in county water and sewer department contracts was completed early this year, but its final report and presentment remains under seal.

Lawyers for Ellis and Ross have filed motions contending the special-purpose grand jury exceeded its authority. They also have filed motions seeking to prevent the DA’s office from using any information it obtained in the special-purpose grand jury investigation in the separate criminal investigation.

The special-purpose grand jury’s charge was to look into the awarding and management of contracts by DeKalb’s Department of Watershed Management from 2002 through 2010.

Search warrants from the criminal investigation have said prosecutors are looking at other contracts, including those awarded for probation and ambulance services.

“We’re not aware of any kind of amphibious ambulance vehicle, so we don’t believe that has anything to do (with) Watershed Management,” Ross’ lawyer, Nick Lotito, said at a Feb. 5 court hearing, according to transcripts.

At that hearing, Ellis’ lawyer, Craig Gillen, accused the DA’s office of “hijacking” the special-purpose grand jury. That grand jury probe, which is a civil investigation, cannot be used to gather evidence and testimony for the separate criminal investigation, Gillen said.

In response, DeKalb prosecutor Kellie Hill said “a lot of their argument is based upon speculation and innuendo.” The special-purpose grand jury, she said, “acted within its statutory power and authority.”

Lawyers for Ellis and Ross asked Scott for permission to read the special grand jury’s presentment before it was made public to determine whether it exceeded its authority. When Scott indicated he would allow it, the DA’s office filed a motion with the Court of Appeals, asking it to find that the judge had exceeded his authority.

The motion filed Wednesday said it was during this appeal that DeKalb Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Leonora Grant allowed court filings to be made public, in violation of a previous order by Scott to keep them under seal.

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