AJC, experts question Atlanta's handling of legal bills in bribery case

ATLANTA — When Atlanta City Attorney Jeremy Berry produced what he described as invoices for $1.4 million worth of outside legal work related to a federal bribery investigation late last year, he trumpeted the city’s commitment to openness.

“These invoices reflect hundreds of hours of legal review time and document production to ensure complete transparency — transparency both in responding to the federal government to assist in their current inquiry and also to the citizens of Atlanta,” Berry wrote in a Nov. 3, 2017, cover letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which requested the bills under the state’s open records act.

But the documents Berry produced for the AJC weren’t actual invoices.


he AJC has learned that Atlanta officials hid legal billing records for the bribery investigation in the account of a different case and directed the creation of new documents resembling invoices to satisfy the AJC’s records request. Experts say the actions ranged from unethical to potentially criminal.

Berry defended his handling of the AJC’s request after reporters questioned him this month about the documents. In a statement Friday, Berry said the decision to bill the bribery investigation to another case predated his tenure at City Hall, and that he acted in good faith when he produced the records, citing a section of the Georgia Bar Rules of Professional Conduct.

In an earlier statement, Berry said the documents provided to the AJC accurately reflected the billing hours and amounts related to the bribery investigation from Baker Donelson, an outside law firm the city hired for help with the investigation.