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Attorneys argue appeal in Lampl case

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

ATLANTA — Arguments in the case against former Morrow City Manager John Lampl were heard Thursday morning in the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Defense attorney Brian Steel asked the justices to dismiss the bill of indictment against Lampl. Steel managed through previous arguments to the trial judge to get the original 16-count indictment whittled to eight charges, which include six of making false statements and one of conspiracy in competition.

Steel argued Thursday that Lampl was illegally called to testify before a special purpose grand jury empaneled to investigate public corruption in Clayton County.

"He was hauled before the special purpose grand jury without notice that he was the target or a warning that he was being looked at as a suspect," said Steel.

Steel went on to opine that Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson acted in a "most egregious" manner.

"This misconduct is so deep," he said. "This is the most egregious conduct we can imagine. I tell my clients that district attorneys are honorable, to expect no foul blows, but how do I explain to all my clients that this kind of conduct is OK?"

Steel clarified that Lawson "is a wonderful person but this is misconduct."

Steel has also been fighting to unseal the petition and un-redacted order convening the special purpose grand jury. Trial Judge Albert Collier has ordered they remain under seal. Powers again asked in October that the documents stay sealed while the case is appealed except for review by the appellate judges. Collier agreed.

"The statements aren't really suppressed because they can be used during cross-examination," said Steel Thursday.

Lampl was indicted in July 2011 on charges he lied about Olde Towne Morrow, a now-defunct commercial development planned near Southlake Mall. Prosecutors also alleged he conspired with others to avoid the contract bid process. He is out on $80,000 bond and attended Thursday's hearing.

Olde Towne Morrow was to boost the local economy and lure tourists and travelers off the I-75. But city officials said the $12 million shopping district brought in only about $10,000 so they started taking a closer look at the project. Officials discovered the structures did not meet fire and safety codes and lacked environmental and feasibility studies, according to court documents.

Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers argued Thursday morning against Steel's motion. Lawson also attended but didn't address the court. Powers told the justices there was no prosecutorial misconduct and no evidence that Lawson misused her powers. She also produced a document from September that showed Steel waived argument in the lower court.

Powers said when Lampl testified before the special purpose grand jury, he was not the target of an investigation.

"It was an investigation of Olde Towne Morrow," she said. "It involved a legitimate investigation into corruption in Clayton County."

The indictment alleges that Lampl circumvented state laws concerning public bids by contracting with house movers, a renovation firm, building materials business and a tree service. Prosecutors allege that Lampl entered into contracts to move houses from several Georgia cities to the Olde Towne Morrow site with the plan to convert them into commercial businesses such a gift shops and restaurants.

Lampl, 47, has a long history with Morrow, having served on the council 20 years ago, working as city manager and then executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, before being elected back to the council in a March 2010 special election. Three months later, Lampl faced allegations of intimidation and was removed from council in May 2011.  He announced in late May 2011 his intention to run for mayor of Morrow but dropped that plan when he was indicted.

Once the case makes its way through the appeals process, which could take as long as late July, Collier will set a trial date.