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More witnesses today in DeKalb CEO hearing
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More witnesses today in DeKalb CEO hearing

More witnesses today in DeKalb CEO hearing
Photo Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC
Dekalb District Attorney Robert James testifies in court Thursday morning. Suspended Dekalb County CEO Burrell Ellis appears in a hearing in Dekalb County Superior Court Thursday, January 23, 2014. Ellis’ attorneys called District Attorney Robert James to the stand after the state lost on a motion to quash his appearance. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

More witnesses today in DeKalb CEO hearing

Burrell Ellis’ lawyer on Friday argued that the public corruption indictment against suspended DeKalb County CEO be dropped because he functioned as a “peace officer” who should have been allowed to appear before the grand jury.

The second day of pretrial hearings opened with defense attorney Dwight Thomas raising a novel challenge, contending Ellis qualified for same protections as those given to police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Under Georgia law, “peace officers” must be served with a proposed indictment at least 15 days before it is presented to a grand jury. Such officers also must be allowed to appear before the grand jury, give a statement before the grand jury that is not subject to cross-examination and have their attorneys appear with them before the grand jury.

Because Ellis was not given such safeguards, the indictment against him should be dismissed, Thomas said. Thomas argued that Georgia law defines a peace officer as any person who by virtue of his or her office “is vested by law with a duty to maintain law and order.”

DeKalb prosecutor Christopher Timmons called such arguments “ridiculous.”

“It is not worthy of consideration,” Timmons told Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson. “Common sense says it’s a police officer or sheriff’s deputy.”

Johnson did not issue an immediate ruling. If Ellis’ argument prevails, prosecutors may have to present the entire case again before a grand jury. That would be the third time, since Ellis was reindicted in the case last week.

Arguments resume about 2 p.m. The AJC will provide live Twitter updates of the proceedings @ AJCDeKalb.

The story so far:

A DeKalb County grand jury indicted CEO Burrell Ellis on June 18 on 15 criminal counts, 14 of them felonies. He is accused strong-arming vendors who do work with the county to contribute to his re-election campaign and threatening those who declined.

Gov. Nathan Deal, following the recommendation of a three-member panel, suspended Ellis from office on July 16. Deal then named DeKalb County Commission Presiding Officer Lee May as acting CEO.

On Jan. 16, a DeKalb County jury reindicted Ellis on many of the same charges brought in the first indictment and adding five new counts include one count of bribery and three counts of perjury. He now faces 14 charges in the case.

Thursday, Ellis’ legal team put District Attorney Robert James on the stand to answer their claims of an illegally recorded videotape of Ellis that was not turned over as evidence. James denied having more than the single video submitted. No other witnesses were able to buttress or deny James, since none said they had seen any videos.

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