DeKalb’s ‘Clash of the Titans’ – Robert James versus Burrell Ellis – must end
By Guest Columnist ALLEN MOYE, a lifelong resident of DeKalb County who recently retired as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Fulton County District Attorney’s office
District Attorney Robert James has to make a difficult decision about what to do with a case that seemed so promising during the investigation, but, in court, against talented opposition, did not live up to the promise.
Suspended CEO Burrell Ellis has a similar, and equally difficult, decision to make about his own future courses of action.
Both men were elected by the voters to protect the best interests of DeKalb County, and I hope their sense of duty will guide each to bring this “clash of Titans” to an end.
During his first term of officeJames has brought Ellis, the county’s CEO, and Crawford Lewis, the Superintendent of Schools, to court. I am sure James did not like the outcome of the case against Lewis any more than he liked Tuesday’s mistrial.
But, he should recognize that he has done DeKalb County good service by highlighting the pervasive nature of the “culture of corruption,” which continues to sully the name of our county.
His investigations have stirred to action the voters in DeKalb whose silence over the last 14 years has allowed that culture to build. While he has not prosecuted Vernon Jones, as at least two grand juries in the past 14 years have recommended, he at least has riled the voters sufficiently to keep Jones from being elected to another office, from which he could have done unimaginable mischief.
James has found allies in the battle against corruption in unlikely places.
Interim CEO Lee May, who, as a commissioner, drug his feet on some reform issues, has become a champion of ethical government. While May’s Organizational Task Force has excluded citizens from membership, across the county other organizations composed of ordinary citizens, such as Blueprint DeKalb and DeKalb Citizens for Good Government, have organized and are demanding reform.
Even though his cases did not have the outcomes in court that James’ might have hoped for, his efforts have not failed because DeKalb County is on the mend, and those politicians who put their own interests before those of the county, may soon be headed for the junkyard.
Burrell Ellis has just such a decision to make. In light of the information coming from the jury about how deeply divided they were during their deliberations, Ellis could decide to stand and fight. Criminal cases generally do not get any better with age.
Assuming he can continue to afford them, he has assembled a very talented legal team to defend him.
Craig Gillen will no doubt discuss with Ellis a change of venue, given that the hour-by-hour coverage of the trial has so saturated the metro area that it is hard to believe 12 people exist who have not heard something about the trial, the evidence and the outcome.
But, in light of the sympathy that was evoked in the jury for Ellis, they may decide that a change of venue only benefits the prosecution. However, any retrial anywhere in Georgia will necessarily spread the word about DeKalb’s corruption, further damaging its reputation, and further stalling its recovery.
Ellis must understand that the worst outcome of this situation for the people of DeKalb County would be for him to return to the job from which he has been suspended. Even if he is not convicted, the evidence against him was damning. Were Ellis to return to the position of CEO, what honest business would ever want to do business here? What honest contractor would ever want to seek a permit from DeKalb County? How many more millions would we have to pay for work that was done by those whose only qualification was that they were willing to pay tribute?
In the interest of the people of DeKalb County who elected both James and Ellis, these two political titans must end this nightmare, and settle this case. Only then, can DeKalb County really begin to heal and rebuild its reputation.
Note to readers: Allen Moye is a retired federal prosecutor and lifelong resident of DeKalb County. He served in 1979 as chair of the DeKalb County Government Reorganization Commission, the charter commission created by the General Assembly to propose a new form of government for the county.