DeKalb DA fires back at Ellis defense team

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James is firing back at allegations made by the defense team for ousted CEO Burrell Ellis.

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James is firing back at allegations made by the defense team for ousted CEO Burrell Ellis.

James has filed several new motions including one to quash subpoenas demanding he and his communications director, Erik Burton, testify in the case. Prosecutors also acknowledge a key witness in the case failed a polygraph examination.

Last week, Ellis' defense team alleged James committed crimes during his investigation of Ellis, and asked that he recuse himself.

In a new motion to quash those subpoenas, the deputy chief assistant district attorney wrote, 'the subpoenas seek information not material or relevant to this case, and the subpoenas are harassing and retaliatory to opposing counsel.'

A criminal grand jury indicted Ellis in June on 15 counts including extortion and theft, based largely on recordings of the CEO allegedly interfering in the awarding of county contracts and shaking down county vendors for campaign contributions. Ellis' attorneys say much of the evidence against him was gathered illegally, and they say their source is someone who worked inside the district attorney's own office.

Ellis' team asked a judge to dismiss the Ellis indictment and instead to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for a criminal probe of James' actions saying he committed 'numerous gross abuses of power and individual rights.' The allegations pertain to a deal James struck with the county contracts and purchasing director, Kelvin Walton. For Walton to avoid his own prosecution, he had to help nail Ellis by recording their conversations.

The district attorney insider told Ellis' lawyers Walton used spy equipment, including a wristwatch and pen to make the recordings 'without CEO Ellis' knowledge or consent, in locations in which Ellis possessed an expectation of privacy.' Ellis' team says Walton recorded Ellis' conversations with third parties 'in willful violation of Georgia's Unlawful Surveillance and Eavesdropping statute.' 

In one of James' new filings opposing the suppression of evidence from a search warrant at the former CEO's home and office, the prosecutor addressed serious questions about Walton's credibility, noting that he failed a polygraph examination.

Prosecutors wrote that Walton 'agreed to cooperate in the investigation as a result of the false statement [he] made to the affiant' of the search warrant affidavit. Walton was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Ellis indictment.

The defense team also accused Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May, who replaced Ellis, of conspiring with the DA, by supplying $150,000 in county funds to purchase the surveillance equipment.

"The allegations against Interim CEO Lee May are outlandish and wrong," said May's Senior Advisor Edmond Richardson, "He is in no way connected to this ongoing criminal case and it is shameful his good character is being unfairly and inaccurately represented in this court motion."

The defense team alleged that James 'wanted to increase his reputation and political prospects by bringing down CEO Ellis, and wanted to assist his friend and political ally, [then] DeKalb County Commission Chairman Lee May, in the process.'

 James' new filings called the allegations 'baseless' and said 'blatant falsehoods contained in various defense motions and pleadings display a hostility and personal animosity toward opposing counsel that has no place in a professional litigant's discourse.'

 Ellis's attorneys call their allegations against the district attorney 'profoundly disturbing, willful, unjust, and illegal.'

They said the district attorney insider told them James 'had it in for CEO Ellis' and says James directed 'enormous resources' toward the Ellis case, which caused James to 'fail to investigate or prosecute and to dismiss many other serious criminal cases' during that timeframe.

A hearing scheduled in the case is scheduled for January 23.