by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned the judge overseeing a special grand jury probe into public corruption in DeKalb County held a secret hearing in his courtroom Tuesday.
Investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer got a tip about the hearing and asked investigative producer Patti DiVincenzo, who was already at the courthouse in search of the grand jury's report, to go watch the hearing. But when DiVincenzo tried to enter Judge Mark Anthony Scott's courtroom, she was stopped.
"There was a bailiff right at the door, and when I tried to walk in he said what are you doing? I said, ‘I'd like to come into this hearing, I'm with WSB-TV.’ And he said, ‘It is closed,’" said DiVincenzo, who did not even have a camera with her.
She said she merely wanted to watch what was happening in open court, as any member of the public could.
"There were clearly people in there. I saw Burrell Ellis in there. I saw his attorney J Tom Morgan," said DiVincenzo.
DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis hired a well-known and high-priced defense team in January after investigators from the district attorney’s office served search warrants at his home and office and hauled away boxes of evidence.
The special grand jury has spent more than a year hearing from witnesses, including Ellis himself, though he did not think he was a target of the investigation.
"I want to say emphatically that I have done nothing wrong," Ellis remarked on Jan. 17 after his home was searched.
The grand jurors were slated to be dismissed last month, and typically their report would have then been made public. Sources told Fleischer the secret hearing was an effort to block that.
"I said we have an attorney on the way, we'd like you to stop this immediately we want this to be an open hearing," DiVincenzo told Judge Scott's court deputy. But he ordered DiVincenzo to wait outside the courtroom, then the hearing abruptly ended.
DiVincenzo tried to question the attorneys as they left. She said, "I asked J. Tom Morgan what happened, and he said 'I can't say, everything's been sealed.'"
Fleischer questioned Ellis' lead attorney, Craig Gillen, as he left the courthouse.
"Ah, no comment, ya'll have a nice day," was Gillen's only response.
Ellis' former campaign manager, Kevin Ross, also left with his attorney, Seth Kirschenbaum, who also refused to comment.
After the clerk's office closed on Tuesday, Judge Scott sent five envelopes to be filed, with attached orders to seal them.
DeKalb County Clerk of Court Debra DeBerry told Fleischer she has no way of knowing the nature of the documents inside, except that they somehow relate to the special grand jury.
A member of the judge's staff told DiVincenzo there are no other hearings scheduled on this matter.