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Judge: County attorneys can testify at grand jury

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield ruled Friday that two county attorneys can testify if a grand jury hears evidence against the finance director, who is accused of shredding phone records.

Benefield's decision means she does not think the county attorneys will violate attorney-client privilege by testifying before a grand jury deliberating charges against finance director Angela Jackson.

Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson is seeking an indictment against Jackson on four felony counts of avoiding a public record, and a misdemeanor charge of violating the state's records retention law, in connection with an open records request for cell phone records.

T. Michael Martin, Jackson's attorney, said he will appeal Benefield's ruling, delaying proceedings for up to a year. Lawson was not deterred by the prospect of an appeal.

"We will start over again with a new grand jury," she said.

Martin had a difficult time arguing against allowing the testimony, because he doesn't know what the attorneys plan to tell a grand jury. Benefield reviewed and sealed affidavits from county attorneys Michael Smith and Christie Cross-Barnes.

"This is so unfair," Martin said during the short afternoon hearing.

Benefield also ruled that Lawson can present witnesses to whom Jackson told about the alleged shredding incident -- information she may have also shared with attorneys in a privileged setting.

"That information is not privileged anymore, because it was broadcast," Lawson said.

Benefield agreed, "If she told others, she's waived her privilege."

Clayton County Fleet Maintenance Director Wade Starr, a former state representative, attended the hearing, sitting in the back of the mostly empty courtroom.

When the hearing was over, Starr sat in with Jackson and her attorneys as they met behind closed doors. When they emerged, Starr was heard discussing the defense strategy with Martin, reassuring Jackson that she'd committed no crime.

Starr had not returned a phone call, seeking comment, as of press time. County spokeswoman Jamie Carlington said she could not comment on why Starr attended the hearing.