Hearing reveals more indictments possible in DeKalb

The report of a yearlong probe into allegations of corruption in DeKalb County contracts remains under seal, even as a Wednesday hearing revealed it could lead to more indictments and recommend a change in how county government is set up.

Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott called the status hearing to get input on whether, with suspended CEO Burrell Ellis under a 15-count indictment, the battle over allowing Ellis and his former campaign director, Kevin Ross, early access to the report was over.

A representative from District Attorney Robert James’ office argued the debate, which dates back to last winter’s end of the special grand jury’s investigation, was over.

In doing so, senior chief Assistant District Attorney Leonora Grant appeared to let it slip that the grand jury probe was connected to Ellis’ indictment in June on attempted extortion, theft and conspiracy charges.

“The motion was to (stop) the District Attorney from using the evidence,” Grant said. “The evidence has been used. It’s done.”

Ellis’ attorneys have long argued the report is linked to the criminal case. They are now arguing for dismissal of the charges, saying the special grand jury exceeded its authority by pursuing them.

Attorneys for Ellis and Ross, neither of whom attended the hearing, also insist that a motion by Grant in the criminal case makes it clear a criminal investigation is ongoing. The implication: More indictments are coming, although it’s unclear whether they would be against Ellis, Ross or others.

“We don’t know what the future holds and whether or to what extent any abuses by the special-purpose grand jury might become relevant,” Seth Kirschenbaum, Ross’ lead attorney, said in arguing again for the right to review the report before it is made public.

Scott had previously granted that preview, which would allow defense attorneys to ask for redactions, but that decision has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Wednesday, Scott appeared to want to release the report, still under seal, to the Chief Judge for review by all 10 Superior Court judges. If those judges have no questions or see a need for further investigation, they could release the jurors who have now been empaneled 18 months, and still keep the report from the public.

Tuesday, a Fulton County judge hearing a lawsuit from the jurors trying to force the report to be made public said he would be inclined to dismiss the jurors if there weren’t pending appeals.

Albert Trujillo, the retiree who serves as the jury’s foreman, said the group is more concerned with having the seal lifted – without a chance to redact any of their work.

“The judge was concerned with protecting Mr. Ellis’ reputation, but now that he’s indicted, it’s a moot point,” Trujillo said. “What’s important to me is to make sure the report is released so our recommended changes to the government structure can be heard.”

Trujillo could not disclose details of those changes, without the report being made public. However, interim CEO Lee May has pledged to ask state lawmakers for changes to the county’s governing charter that could end with the elimination of the chief executive office.

Those questions will play out this fall, the same time hearings are slated to begin in Ellis’ criminal case. His attorneys are now waiting for discovery, a look at the evidence against him, to begin filing motions.

Scott, meanwhile, said he will review case law to see if he can turn over the special grand jury report while still keeping jurisdiction on pending issues, such as contempt motions against both Grant and Kirschenbaum.

He has not set a date for when he will rule but indicated he will decide soon.

“I can tell you, Judge Scott wants this off his desk in the worst way,” the judge said.