An outside law firm hired by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News delivered a letter to city of Atlanta officials today, saying it expects public documents requested by the news organizations related to the on-going federal bribery investigation to be turned over by Friday.
As the AJC reported Sunday, the city has denied all requests from the news organizations related to emails, contracts and payments made to Elvin "E.R." Mitchell, and people who may be related to the investigation.
Mitchell pleaded guilty last week in federal court to a single county of conspiracy to commit bribery and launder money in order to obtain city construction contracts. He has agreed to cooperate and testify in the continuing probe.
The letter, written by attorney Michael A. Caplan, says that the city's denials of the documents are improper.
"We are hopeful that the city will reconsider its position and promptly provide the requested information consistent with its obligations under the Open Records Act," the letter says. "If the city does not provide this information by Friday, Feb. 3, our clients (along with other interested parties) may have no other choice but to file a civil action to enforce the city's compliance."
City Attorney Cathy Hampton wrote in an email to the AJC on Friday that her department is "confident that our responses comply with all relevant law and look forward to disseminating all non-exempt records at the appropriate time."
In a meeting with AJC reporters and editors Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he wants the records to be turned over.
"We have a criminal investigation going on," Reed said. "We’re cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. So if I’m not turning over documents, there is a reason, given my record of turning over other documents.
"What I can assure you is the moment we can, we will produce them."
The news organizations have requested emails that may mention Mitchell or his companies, contracts provided to his companies and payments made to him or his associates.
The city's denial relies on two exemptions in the Georgia Open Records Act: one for records compiled for law enforcement that might endanger a confidential source or any other individual, or disclose a confidential investigation or prosecution; the second is for law enforcement records during a pending investigation.
Caplan's letter says neither applies.
"None of the requested records were 'compiled for law enforcement' purposes, nor would they disclose a confidential informant, endanger anyone or reveal a confidential investigation," the letter says.
In terms of documents related to the ongoing investigation, Caplan wrote that the Legislature specifically said the exemption "shall not apply to records in the possession of any agency that is the subject of the pending investigation."
The city has not yet responded to the letter.