A years-long lawsuit between the DeKalb County School System and a construction firm became more complicated this month after the company demanded access to documents seized by investigators last month in a separate probe.
Heery/Mitchell, a management firm that formerly worked for DeKalb schools, believes it was removed from the district’s SPLOST II and SPLOST III construction programs in 2006 so the district’s chief operations officer, Pat Pope, could take over the projects. Pope’s office has been the subject of a county investigation into contracting irregularities, and investigators seized documents from a district building in Tucker where she works on Oct. 13. The office of her husband, Anthony Pope, an architect who has designed several county schools, was also searched.
The school system booted Heery/Mitchell, citing cost overruns at several projects, including McNair and Henderson Mill elementary schools, Arabia Mountain and Columbia high schools and the Mountain Industrial Center. When Heery/Mitchell sued, looking for owed payments, the school system filed counterclaims, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages.
In court documents filed earlier this month, Heery/Mitchell attorneys said they need to see the documents investigators seized because they contain evidence.
From Heery/Mitchell’s motion filed Nov. 5: “Heery/Mitchell is not seeking to take a shot in the dark in the hopes of eliciting relevant proof from the seized records, but rather intends to collect evidence that… is highly relevant to Heery/Mitchell’s defense that it was terminated pretextually by the school district to facilitate fraudulent activity in the same projects that Heery/Mitchell had been handling.”
Heery/Mitchell attorneys reiterated that they did not want access to all documents seized – only those relevant to their case. The motion also argues that seized documents are not confidential because they would have been accessible through an open records request had investigators not taken them. Pat Pope was scheduled for a deposition on Nov. 18, and Heery/Mitchell asked investigators to provide them with the documents beforehand.
Heery/Mitchell attorneys could not be reached for comment, and district officials do not talk about pending litigation.
The school board voted earlier this month to give the majority of Pope’s responsibilities to two other construction management firms to protect its building programs from further controversy. Pope, however, did not lose her job, and her contract ends in June.