Burrell Ellis, suspended CEO of DeKalb County, took the stand today in his defense against charges that he traded county contracts for political donations.
He’s arguing that he didn’t “dry up” firms for choosing not to contribute to his campaign, but for lying to him … when he was calling them, looking for campaign contributions.
“Testimony turns to Ellis’ dealings with Ciber, one of the companies he’s alleged to have threatened to pull DeKalb business from if they didn’t contribute to his campaign,” the AJC reports. “Ellis said he was told Ciber wouldn’t donate until they learned whether they would receive a government contract. “Had I known they had an active (bid) out I wouldn’t have called for contribution,” he said, adding he made no threats against Ciber. “I did not threaten their ability to do business with DeKalb County.”
Yesterday, Ellis called character witnesses, including Eugene Walker, former chairman of the DeKalb County School Board. Walker testified that Ellis was “truthful.” I am curious if the prosecutors wanted to remind the jury that Nathan Deal removed Walker and five others from the school board for running the system so poorly that it’s accreditation was threatened.
He also called Judy Yates, a former county commissioner who unsuccessfully ran against Vernon Jones in 2004. She testified that Kelvin Walton — the contracting officer at the heart of the allegations — offered her a vendor list during her campaign, similar to the one she believes he provided for Ellis.
And Ellis also managed to call in a political favor (one might assume) to get Congressman Hank Johnson testifying in Ellis’ defense. “The defense wanted him to talk about his experiences raising money as a county commissioner,” 11 Alive reported. “But the judge ruled the fundraising habits of one person do not speak to the habits of another.”
Instead, Johnson testified that Ellis “is an honest individual, a man of good character.” The two served together on the commission before Johnson left to take out Cynthia McKinney.
Let us now speculate on the implications of a defendant taking the stand in a criminal trial.