A hearing into their lawsuit was held Friday, but members of a DeKalb County grand jury are no closer to their goal of getting a judge to release the findings of their investigation into corruption involving county water and sewer contracts.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Daniel Coursey heard arguments on the lawsuit filed by members of a special purpose grand jury against a fellow judge, Mark Anthony Scott, and said he was going to dismiss their case.
Instead, hours later, Coursey bowed out of the proceeding, saying he had determined he should not have presided over the lawsuit in the first place.
The hotly disputed case will now be assigned to another judge who does not preside in DeKalb.
After the 90-minute hearing Friday morning, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Coursey about a rule governing judicial conduct that states it is inappropriate for a judge to consider a lawsuit when a party in the case is a judge from the same judicial circuit.
In March, the jurors filed suit against Scott in an attempt to force him to forward their report to DeKalb’s 10 Superior Court judges, who would then decide when to make it public. The suit also sought to have the grand jurors dismissed from their duties.
Scott is withholding release of the report to give lawyers representing DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis and consultant Kevin Ross time to read, in the judge’s chambers, the 81-page document. Both Ellis and Ross deny any wrongdoing. The attorneys had asked Scott for the opportunity to ask that any sections that are unfairly prejudicial be redacted from the report before it becomes public.
The DeKalb District Attorney’s Office is appealing Scott’s decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, asking the court to prevent Ellis and Ross from seeing the grand jury report before it becomes public.
During Friday’s arguments, Assistant District Attorney Leonora Grant said there is no evidence in the public record that Ellis and Ross are included in the report.
But Atlanta lawyer Gary Freed, who represents Scott, didn’t buy it. Otherwise, he said, the DA’s Office’s fight to keep lawyers for Ellis and Ross from seeing the report “is much ado about nothing.”
Scott’s goal is to make sure that individuals accused of wrongdoing in the report aren’t “tried in the court of public opinion,” Freed said. “They have due process rights.”
After hearing arguments Friday, Coursey said he was going to dismiss the suit because the issue over Scott’s handling of the report is also appeal before the state Supreme Court.
Coursey then looked up to the grand jurors, who filled several rows of the courtroom gallery.
“I appreciate your time and help, as everyone does,” the judge said.
“It’s not as if you have to wait in some jury room,” he told them. “Go about your daily lives. It’s not like you’re working for the Fire Department and have to be ready every second.”
Also sitting in court was Richard Hyde, a member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. When asked why he was present, Hyde declined comment and referred any questions to the judicial watchdog agency’s director, Jeff Davis.
Davis also declined to comment except to cite the JQC opinion that says a judge should not hear a case involving a judge from the same circuit.
In an order signed Friday afternoon, Coursey said he thought he could hear the dispute because neither side had asked for him to withdraw from it. But after further review of the JQC opinion, he wrote, “this court now concludes that recusal is necessary.”