The federal race discrimination case against DeKalb County, former county CEO Vernon Jones and other officials grew more contentious this week, as the plaintiffs’ attorneys accused the county of litigation misconduct and the judge shot down a motion by the defense involving a key piece of evidence.
In the trial that began March 22 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, plaintiffs claim three former parks department managers were forced out of their jobs because they were White and a Black deputy director was fired because he failed to “dig up dirt” on them. They are suing the county, Jones, former Assistant County Administrator Morris Williams, former Parks and Recreation Director Marilyn Boyd Drew, and Richard Stogner, former executive assistant to the CEO.
Attorneys for plaintiffs Becky Kelley, John Drake, the estate of Michael Bryant, who died in February, and Herbert Lowe filed a motion March 30 claiming the county “elicited false testimony,” withheld and fabricated documents and “stonewalled the plaintiffs for six years, needlessly driving up the cost of litigation.”
The motion also claims Drew called DeKalb County employee Kelvin Walton during the trial to warn him that his name had been mentioned–in violation of the judge’s orders not to talk about the case outside the courtroom–and then lied about it in a private deposition.
Separately, Judge William S. Duffey Jr. rejected a motion by the defense to prevent the plaintiffs from referring to disciplinary action that was taken against defendant Williams and former Human Resources Director Joe Stone for a profanity-laced conversation that is a key piece of evidence in the plaintiffs’ case.
In the 2003 conversation, which was unknowingly recorded on an employee’s voice mail, Stone was complaining to Williams that the new fire chief was trying to promote White firefighters to battalion chief and there was no way Jones would agree to it.
“He wants to pick ‘em from a population that is solid snow White already. Now he got to cut that [expletive] out with Vernon,” Stone said, according to a transcript.
Duffey had already chided the defense for failing to produce evidence of the 2006 reprimands until a day after the trial started. The defense argued that the plaintiffs’ attorneys never requested the letters of reprimand–which further angered the judge.
“What I find most troubling and offensive…are the representations that this information had never been asked for,” Duffey said on March 30, denying the defense’s motion and saying it “should never have been requested in the first place.”
Missing records have been a recurring flashpoint in the trial. Drew testified that Bryant and Drake didn’t receive performance evaluations–requirements for pay raises–because they failed to submit performance plans. On cross-examination, she said she found the plans under her credenza at some point after the 2004 suit was filed, according to the plaintiffs’ motion.
A letter objecting to Bryant’s reprimand, written by his attorney, was never put in Bryant’s personnel file.
The defense on Tuesday called to the stand U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, whom Jones is seeking to oust from Congress in a Democratic primary. But in the courtroom, the political competitors appeared to be on the same side.
Johnson, a DeKalb County Commissioner from 2001 until 2006, denied a conversation that Kelley said took place, in which Johnson told her that fellow Commissioner Lou Walker “did not want to support any project that came from that little White woman,” referring to Kelley, the former head of parks before Drew.
“I cannot understand the context within which I would make such a statement,” Johnson testfied. Furthermore, he said, “conversations between myself and Lou Walker were pretty slim. We were not really on good terms.”
Jones, who was CEO from 2001 to 2008, has denied a scheme to get rid of White managers. Earlier in the trial, he testified he wanted the best employees that reflected the county’s population, meaning Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, Democrat and Republican.
“Diversity is good. I believed in it then. I believe in it now, he told the mostly White jury.”
Plaintiffs attorneys point out that from 2001 and 2005, the number of Blacks in the highest-paid category increased 82 percent, to 60, while the number of Whites in those positions fell from 61 to 57 during the same period.
Lowe testified last week that Jones was clear in his mistrust of Whites and was concerned that White managers were leaking negative information about the county to the press. Jones especially wanted to put more Blacks in the parks department, Lowe said.
On cross-examination, defense attorneys sought to discredit Lowe by bringing up errors on his job application that he acknowledged but couldn’t explain and portraying him as a man who couldn’t get along with other people.
The attorneys expected to conclude their arguments on Wednesday, March 31, with a ruling as early as Thursday.
The county’s legal fees were $2.54 million as of January, the last time it received a bill, spokeswoman Sheila Edwards said.