ATLANTA — A historic case is underway in a Fulton County court where a top aide to former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is criminally charged with blocking access to public information.
Reed’s former press secretary Jenna Garland is the first person ever criminally charged with violating Georgia’s Open Records Act.
Investigative reporter Aaron Diamant was inside the courtroom when two key witnesses took the stand.
At the core of the case is whether text messages add up to Garland trying to keep Channel 2 Action News from getting public records we wanted to share with you.
“This case is about open government and the defendant’s attempt to keep damaging information contained in public records from being released to the public,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Blair McGowan said. “The evidence will show that the defendant knowingly and willingly attempted to frustrate the access to records by making these public records difficult for WSB to obtain and thereby making it difficult for WSB to review them.”
Garland’s defense team disagreed.
“That criminal provision states that an accused, Ms. Garland in this case, does not violate it unless she acted knowingly and willfully. That means with unlawful intent with the intent to do something the law forbids,” defense attorney Scott Grubman said.
Channel 2 investigative producer Terah Boyd told the court that in 2017, she made a formal request for copies of then-Mayor Reed’s water bills, those of his brother Tracy and members of city council to see who was paying and who was not.
“A reporter that I work with, I believe, got a tip that elected officials in City Hall were getting a sweetheart deal on their water bills,” Boyd said.
That request went to Watershed Management’s communications director, Lillian Govus, who looped in Garland.
By text message, Garland instructed Govus: “Be as unhelpful as possible” and “drag this out as long as possible.”
On the stand, Govus told the court Garland’s directive made her uncomfortable.
“At that point, I didn’t have a response, which is why I didn’t respond, because I knew that what I had just been asked was something that wouldn’t be within the bounds of the law,” Govus said.
Garland has maintained she’s done nothing wrong and in court, her lawyer called those text messages tongue-in-cheek banter with someone she considered a friend.
The defense will cross-examine Govus when court resumes tomorrow morning.
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