Ellis attorneys focus on DA’s videos in corruption hearing

4/1/2014, 1 a.m.
Suspended CEO Burrell Ellis at his pretrial hearing March 31 in DeKalb Superior Court

Attorneys for suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis March 31 stepped up their efforts to remove District Attorney Robert James from Ellis’ corruption case. At a pretrial motions hearing Monday in DeKalb Superior Court, defense lawyers told Judge Courtney L. Johnson that James should be disqualified from the case because of misconduct issues.

Ellis attorney Dwight Thomas asked the court to seize James’ computer so the GBI can search it for what they say could be a secretly recorded video of Ellis.

Thomas said James may be carrying on a politically motivated vendetta to withhold what could be important evidence in the case.

“If there are no images, then there’s no discovery issue. But if there are, then we’ve got serious ramifications in this courtroom,” said Thomas.

Ellis’ lawyers have asked Judge Johnson to dismiss the 14 felony charges that accuse him of shaking down county vendors for campaign cash and punishing those who did not give. Ellis has denied wrongdoing.

In a January 23 hearing, former chief assistant DeKalb district attorney Don Geary testified that James showed him about a minute of a secretly recorded video of Ellis in 2013. Geary told James his office had committed two felonies because both the video and the audio of Ellis’ conversation were captured illegally.

At Monday’s hearing, Ellis’ lawyers said that Geary noticed Ellis was in a suit in the video, while the only video the DA’s office turned over in the case shows Ellis in a golf shirt.

Prosecutors are challenging the motion to disqualify the DA from the case and said they had turned over all recordings.

They say materials included one video and several hundred hours of audio recordings taken secretly by Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, who cooperated in the Ellis investigation.

said they had turned over all recordings – the one video and several hundred hours of audio recordings – taken secretly by Purchasing Director Kelvin Walton, who cooperated in the probe.

Prosecutors denied the existence of additional video, calling the claims a publicity stunt aimed at delaying the trial. They said Ellis’ attorneys should be sanctioned for slanderous comments.

“There isn’t any forensic misconduct because we haven’t even been to trial yet. So it’s just completely untrue, misleading, and disrespectful to this court,” said Assistant District Attorney Lee Grant.

“There is only one video and it was turned over six months ago,” Assistant DA Cynthia Hill said. “Just repeating that claim [of more videos] over and over and over again doesn’t make it true.”

The hearing continues Tuesday. Judge Johnson The said she expects to rule on the pretrial motions this week.

Ellis’ trial is set to begin in June.