AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

DeKalb DA not following his own money, ethics complaint alleges

A fellow church parishioner of Burrell Ellis has lodged ethics complaints against the man who put him behind bars, accusing DeKalb County’s district attorney of bucking campaign finance rules.

Beatrice Williams, of Lithonia, paints DA Robert James as something of a hypocrite, saying he violated his oath of office by going after Ellis while failing to keep his own affairs in order.

"Mr. James has been focusing intently on prosecuting DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis for alleged corruption and perjury," her cover letter to the DeKalb County Board of Ethics says, "but Mr. James has neglected his own ethical obligations and failed to provide transparency into his campaign funds.

"It is time that DeKalb County residents learn about Mr. James' own glass house," Williams' letter said.

The DA's alleged transgressions include failing to file personal financial disclosures four years in a row, underreporting campaign debt from loans he made to himself, and saying he had zero campaign cash when he apparently had thousands of dollars.

He also failed to file affidavits required for his position with the Judicial Nominating Commission four years in a row, the complaints say.

You can read what Williams filed here.

James admits to reporting errors. Spokesman Erik Burton said James was already making corrections, and the dearth of personal financial disclosures was an oversight during years when he wasn’t campaigning.

Williams complained both to the DeKalb Ethics Board and to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. However, DeKalb's ethics chairman, John Ernst, said the local board has no jurisdiction over the district attorney, so that one's not going anywhere.

Channel 2 Action News’ Richard Belcher reported that Williams, 77, has attended St. Philip AME Church with Ellis.

Ellis is now in a state prison outside Savannah.

"If he wants to hold the CEO to these standards," Williams said of James in her Channel 2 interview, "I want him to have the same standards applied to him.

"He put the CEO behind bars for what he did," she said. "I still have a problem with that."


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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.