Suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis listens to testimony from District Attorney Robert James during a hearing in DeKalb County Superior Court Thursday, January 23, 2014.
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Photo: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

DeKalb DA strongly denies allegations

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James on Thursday testified he was not prosecuting suspended CEO Burrell Ellis as part of a political vendetta and strongly denied allegations of wrongdoing during the investigation leading up to Ellis’ indictment.

“It’s evil to use that authority,” James said, when asked if he targeted Ellis politically. “It’s wrong to use that authority in a vindictive fashion. … It’s abhorrent.”

Before James took the unusual step of taking the witness stand, DeKalb prosecutors tried to prevent their boss from having to do so. But Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson denied that request and James answered questions for almost two hours.

Earlier, Craig Gillen, Ellis’ lead attorney, disclosed to Johnson that he will call two former top prosecutors in the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office to testify: former chief assistant Don Geary and John Melvin, who headed the office’s public integrity unit.

Gillen said Geary will testify that James showed him a video recording of James taken during the investigation that led to the suspended CEO’s public corruption indictment. After seeing the video, Geary told James his office had committed two felonies because both the video and the audio of Ellis’ conversation were captured illegally.

When Gillen asked him if that had occurred, James first chuckled and then answered, “Absolutely not.”

“Don never told me I was committing a felony,” James testified. “If Don had told me that, I’d have said, ‘Oh, my God.’ … I would have stopped the process and had a conversation.”

Before James stepped down from the stand, Assistant District Attorney Anna Cross said she needed to ask her boss some uncomfortable questions about what he thought of Geary before the top prosecutor resigned in December 2012.

During the months leading up to Geary’s resignation, James said, he had begun to question Geary’s integrity and his loyalty to the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office.

“I had some concerns,” James said. “I absolutely did. … By the end of his tenure, Don and I didn’t have much of a relationship at all.”

James said he suspected both Geary and Melvin had leaked information to Channel 2 Action News because the station’s TV crew was stationed outside Ellis’ home when it was searched by investigators on Jan. 7, 2013. When he questioned them about the leak, James said, both prosecutors denied any involvement.

But James said he was still not convinced. “I have suspicions,” he said. “I have beliefs.”

Since both Geary and Melvin left, James added, “Channel 2 doesn’t get scoops in my office anymore.”

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