Ellis hearings begin Monday, trial set for June

The explosive back-and-forth between suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis and District Attorney Robert James moved from court motions to the courtroom Monday in the closely watched political corruption case.

Arguments on dozens of motions filed by both sides are expected to take all week to hear.

Ellis’ lawyers have asked Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson to dismiss the 14 felony charges that allege he shook down county vendors for campaign contributions and punished those who did not give. Ellis has denied wrongdoing.

Ellis’ attorneys also have asked to disqualify the DA’s office from the case, saying James is breaking the law by mounting a political motivated prosecution.

In his filings, James describes the allegations as “stunts” to draw attention from the charges and asks the judge to impose sanctions against the defense team for alleged slander.

James also filed motions objecting to the defense request to have the GBI examine his computer to determine whether prosecutors conducted an illegal investigation and then tried to cover it up.

This week’s hearings will likely be a continuation, in tone and to some degree in substance, of two days of hearings in January.

In one of those sessions, Don Geary, the former chief assistant DeKalb district attorney, was a defense witness who testified that he had raised concerns with James about the legality of a secretly captured video recording of Ellis in his county office.

Court records show that purchasing director Kelvin Walton captured the video in August 2012 video by using a camera pen. Walton is a cooperating witness for prosecutors, who list him as the unindicted co-conspirator.

Geary testified that James showed him less than a minute of the video on James’ office computer. Geary said he became concerned when James told him the video was captured without Ellis’ consent and without a court order or search warrant. Geary said because Ellis was in a private place and did not consent to the video, prosecutors may have committed one or two felonies.

James told him there were “more than a few” of these videos, Geary testified.

But James, making a rare appearance on the witness stand, testified that he never showed Geary a video and said Geary never expressed alarm that a video was captured illegally. Other prosecution witnesses also testified that there was only a single secret video of Ellis.

Ellis’ lawyers asked Johnson to let the GBI, as a “neutral party, “ examine James’ computer to get to the bottom of the matter.

The judge must also decide if, because the video was taken inside the CEO’s office in a county building, Ellis had no expectation of privacy in the video, as prosecutors argue.

Johnson has ruled on only a handful of the dozens of motions, including an order last week denying an Ellis request that the trial be delayed until the fall.

The order requires both sides to submit final discovery, or evidence, by May 2, in anticipation of a June 2 trial date.