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DA seeking indictment of county finance director

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Clayton County grand jury is in the process of hearing testimony against the county's finance director, Angela Jackson, before it weighs whether she should be indicted on four felony charges, and one misdemeanor charge, over her handling of public documents, the county's district attorney has confirmed.

Although District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson was largely tight-lipped on the matter, she did say her office began presenting evidence against Jackson, to the grand jury, on Wednesday. She said she is asking the jurors to indict Jackson on four felony counts of "Avoid a Public Record" and one misdemeanor count of allegedly violating the state's records retention law.

"It was scheduled to go before the grand jury, and what I can say is that I presented witnesses, but the testimony is not yet finished," she said. "It will have to be finished at some later date."

Lawson said she is not sure when the grand jury will be able to finish hearing testimony against Jackson, but she confirmed that the grand jury only meets on Wednesdays, and the term of the current grand jury ends on April 27.

Jackson's attorney, T. Michael Martin, said the testimony cannot continue until a hearing is held on a motion he has filed to keep County Attorney Michael Smith, and an attorney on Smith's staff, Christie Barnes, from testifying before the grand jury. He said he expects a hearing to be held on his motion "within the next week, to 10 days." But he added that a date has not yet been set.

Lawson said the "Avoid a Public Record" charges fall under Official Code of Georgia Annotated, section 45-11-1. That code section states that persons "shall be punished by imprisonment and labor in the penitentiary," if they, among many outlined actions, "steal, embezzle, alter, corrupt, withdraw, falsify, or avoid any record."

The district attorney said the records retention law violation falls under code section 50-18-102, which states "all records created, or received, in the performance of duty, and paid for by public funds, are deemed to be public property and shall constitute a record of public acts."

Code section 50-18-102 also states that the destruction of records can only take place "through the operation of an approved retention schedule."

The district attorney said Jackson could face "two to 10 years of incarceration for each count" of "Avoid a Public Record," and up to 12 months in jail, and a fine of up to $1,000, for the one count of violating the state's records retention law.

Lawson would not confirm any details of why she is seeking an indictment of Jackson on those charges, but Martin said his client is being accused of not keeping detailed cell phone records, which show who county employees and elected officials are calling on county-provided cell phones.

"Apparently the district attorney's office is of the belief that Angela has destroyed public records," he said.

On Tuesday, Rex resident, Rosa Barbee, said she and fellow Rex resident, Pamela Noah, filed an open records request for the cell phone records of every member of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, as well as the county's fleet maintenance director, Wade Starr, in December.

Barbee said she and Noah were told by county officials that the records did not exist, but a "whistle blower" in the county government told them the cell phone records had actually been "shredded." Barbee said she and Noah then filed a complaint with Lawson's office, against Jackson, and officials in the county's legal and information technology departments.

Lawson would not say who came to her office with information against Jackson. She would only say her office "got a packet of information" concerning the county's finance director.

Martin admitted his client did not keep the sections of the cell phone bill that detail the calls made to, and from, the county-owned cell phones. He asserted, however, that a 2005 county ordinance required his client to only keep the one page of the bill that showed how much money the county owed for the month.

The ordinance, he said, only requires county offices to keep invoices that show how much money the county spent on a service. Martin said the monthly cell phone bill is between 1,500 and 1,700 pages in length, and it would have been difficult for Jackson's office to be responsible for housing that many pages of documents.

"It is simply not feasible to expect Angela, or the finance office, to retain her copy of it [the entire cell phone bill]," Martin said. He also said the records have not ceased to exist, because the county's cell phone provider, Verizon, still has detailed copies of the county's cell phone bills.

Jackson's attorney said he believes the grand jury's deliberations will come down to jury members having to decide which documents Jackson was required to keep as the county's finance director.

"The issue is whether she was required to keep the detailed information included in those cell phone bills, or whether she was only required to keep the part that showed how much the county paid for the cell phone service," he said.