Georgia Supreme Court rejects appeal on special grand juries

The Georgia Supreme Court refused Monday to consider an appeal of a Gwinnett County case in which a lower court ruled special purpose grand juries -- a powerful tool for investigating public corruption -- cannot issue indictments.

The prior state Court of Appeals ruling invalidated the indictment against former Gwinnett County Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, but the underlying case remained unaffected because prosecutors obtained a new indictment from a regular grand jury in August.

Kenerly, who resigned in 2010, is accused of accepting or agreeing to accept $1 million in bribes from a prominent developer. He is also charged with two counts of failing to disclose a financial interest in properties he voted to rezone.

Kenerly, who is out of jail on a signature bond, has to be arrested on the new indictment now that the state's appeal has reached a dead end, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said.

Porter said he will probably prepare a bench warrant for a judge to sign later this week and meet with Kenerly's defense attorney, Pat McDonough, to make arrangements for Kenerly to turn himself in again.

McDonough said he was pleased with the court's decision. "We look forward to reviewing the validity of the second indictment and proving Mr. Kenerly's innocence," the attorney said.

McDonough has likened special grand juries to investigative bodies like the police, GBI or FBI, agencies that do not have the right to indict their own cases, either.

Porter disagrees. He thinks that special grand juries will be weakened if stripped of the power to indict.

"It certainly removes a very potent tool in investigating corruption," Porter said.

The purpose of empaneling a special grand jury is to allow a group of citizens to focus on one issue with no time limit, unlike regular grand juries, which hear hundreds of cases during a six-month term.

Kenerly's indictment stemmed from a special grand jury's 10-month investigation into the county's park land purchases. The investigation began after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series of articles questioning some of the deals.

The special grand jurors concluded commissioners paid millions of dollars too much for parcels of land in several deals that benefited friends and political allies.

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