AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

A four month wait, two guilty verdicts and one big surprise for a Buckhead real estate investor

Tuesday’s guilty verdicts in three of the trials of a Buckhead real estate investor on housing code violations had all the appearances of a surprise.

Rick Warren’s fourth trial, scheduled for that afternoon, was cancelled because prosecutors decided not to pursue those charges. Code enforcement officers, potential witnesses and city dignitaries that sat through the last three trials weren’t there.

When Judge Crystal Gaines said she would read her verdicts, Warren’s attorney George Lawson said he wasn’t prepared. Gaines replied that she told him of her plans the last time he was in court. (I was there and didn’t hear her say it, but she may have told Lawson and prosecutor Drew Taylor in sidebar proceedings. Or I could have missed it.)

Gaines announced her decisions – not guilty verdicts in the first trial, guilty verdicts in two others – without commentary. Lawson and Taylor stuck to procedural business. Warren would be sentenced Oct. 20, which is the date of his next trial. As a repeat offender, a conviction means automatic jail time, which is a rare punishment for violations that usually result in fines. Gaines discussed an agreement between the defense and prosecution to let Warren stay out of jail on a $2,000 appeal bond.

Warren and Lawson left the courtroom quickly and without comment, and I had trouble seeing their faces. But in a photograph taken after the verdict, Warren looked rattled.

The next trial is for a Nov. 17, 2014 citation on a house in Ashby Terrace, which is just a block or two south of the English Avenue neighborhood where Warren buys most of his properties. Proceedings start at 1 p.m.

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