Case of county attorney’s wiped hard drive is sent to prosecutor

Fayette County State Court Solicitor Jamie Inagawa is being asked to determine whether former county attorney Scott Bennett violated Georgia open records laws by having all the data wiped off his office and laptop computers, both of which are owned by the county, just as he was ending his employment contract with the county late last year.

Violations of the state’s open records laws are classified as misdemeanors, which is why the matter is being sent to Inagawa, who handles misdemeanor cases in Fayette County State Court.

The County Commission voted unanimously April 11 to forward investigative materials compiled by the county marshal’s department during its internal probe of the matter. The investigation began in early January when county officials tried to boot up Bennett’s office computer without success.

At that time, interim county attorney Dennis Davenport was attempting to access the computer to go over records and get up to speed on pending cases and other matters, officials said. It was soon discovered that the hard drive to Bennett’s office desktop computer was missing.

Bennett turned in both the hard drive and his county-issued laptop to the marshal’s department in a matter of days, saying later that they were both so old they were unlikely to be reissued so he wasn’t in a rush to return them.

Bennett has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, contending that there is a hard copy in his former county office of all public records that were on his computer. Bennett also has said that the data wipe was approved by then-County Administrator Jack Krakeel.

At Thursday’s county commission meeting, Commissioner Randy Ognio noted that the investigation into the matter concluded that Bennett may have violated Georgia open records laws. Perhaps because it is considered a legal matter, the commission decided to avoid further comment on the matter beyond taking the unanimous vote to forward the investigation to Inagawa.

Some might consider it suspicious that Bennett’s hard drives weren’t wiped by county personnel, as he took them off-site to presumably be wiped by a private company. The county apparently did not make a routine backup of Bennett’s computers, either, as there is no such reference made in the detailed investigation conducted by the marshal’s department.

Frequent Bennett critic and fellow attorney Wayne Kendall has contended that Bennett wanted evidence erased from the hard drives of how Bennett represented several clients in other courts while he was serving as the county’s full-time staff attorney, which would have violated his initial employment contract.

Kendall and Bennett have clashed in court, first in the district voting lawsuit filed by the NAACP and later in a filing in Fayette County Superior Court in which Kendall asked a judge to overturn a late amendment to Bennett’s contract as he was being transitioned out of the role by the end of December.

Bennett has said part of the reason he wanted the drives wiped was because he knew County Commissioner Steve Brown would “snoop” through them looking for dirt against him. Bennett and Brown often clashed, and Brown discredited Bennett’s work to the point where Brown publicly said he couldn’t trust any of Bennett’s legal opinions.

Bennett in January told The Citizen that most of the data on the computer hard drives included drafts and legal notes, such as excerpts from cases germane to the legal filings he presented on behalf of the county, which are also public record and on file in various courts, Bennett noted.

“This is all because Steve wanted to go through my hard drive to try and drag something up on me,” Bennett said in January. “He told somebody that. He said he was convinced I had done something unethical and he was going to find it on my computer.”

Brown in January confirmed that he wanted to know what was on Bennett’s hard drives, and initially accused Bennett of “theft of county property.”

Since Bennett had the permission of former County Administrator Krakeel, however, the marshal’s department ultimately determined that no theft had taken place. The marshal’s report was later amended to note that under the county’s administrative flow chart in place at the time, Bennett was to report directly to the county commission and not the county administrator.

highflyer2
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What we have here

Is one Corrupt outgoing party being accused by the corrupt incoming party being Investigated by the corrupt Marshals office. Now does that make it look any clearer ? It's an embarrassment to have worked there and it is an embarrassment to have to live in this county!

AtHomeGym
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hiflyer & corruption

why don't you just trot out your evidence of corruption and we'll get it sent to the Solicitor! Oh, need the name of a good realtor? United Van Lines is ready when you are!

highflyer2
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Oh my

I must have stepped on a corrupted toe! Trust me, all my information has went to the GBI and to the Governors Office. Why in the HELL would I trust the Solicitor with it?
Come on big guy,lets do a group hug!

AtHomeGym
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hiflyer & corruption

So now you'd like to include me in your vision of corruption--sorry--won't compute. So you've provided info to State officials have you--looking for some whistleblower reward? Best be careful--those things can backfire.

highflyer2
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No reward

Just justice, and I have need to worry.....I fear no evil because I HAVE walked that shadow of death. Ready for that group hug now? :)

AtHomeGym
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Hiflyer, hugs & shadows

Sorry, not the huggy type--but I do know a little about the shadow of death; has to do with an IED in a faraway place.

highflyer2
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I'm a bit

To old to have been spooked by IED"s but I do thank you for being there. My walk with the shadow of death was with my Deceased son. Looks like we both have demons and I will be the first to admit that I'm no angel but I had to put up with a lot of things that just wasn't right for over 7 years and many of those things teetered on the line of "illegal", such as the county buying supplies for certain people that was using them for their private business and their "on the side romances" mail being sent through our office and not one manager saying a thing. Many many more things that was understood by all of us "working bee's" to keep our mouth shut. What I'm trying to say is things are either right or wrong, it shouldn't hinge on who you are! But trust me, it has happened and is still happening every day in Fayette County.

AtHomeGym
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hiflyer & demons

nope, no demons for me! Just a byproduct of living in a combat zone. And I wasn't 'spooked'. It was a concussion, shrapnel in the skull and 4 days in the hospital. I was back in the same place the next week. As for your experience, I don't doubt that some shady practices go on routinely in many govt organizations. That happens when you have dishonest employees and bosses willing to look the other way.

highflyer2
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Kinda sad

When the dishonest employee is a judge. Nuff said for now but trust me......the fat lady hasn't sang yet.

Husband and Fat...
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Interim County Attorney Thoughts

I apologize as I was not at the last county commission meeting. The meeting minutes are not posted and the article does not reference that commission consulted with the county attorney.

Does the current interim attorney endorse the case moving forward?

Larry.Sussberg
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Prosecutor's decision

Honestly, I'm not sure this is a situation involving a vendetta but more a case of following due process.

Whatever anyone might think, the commissioners had an obligation to review the matter then turn it over to the prosecutor whose job it is to determine if there was a criminal offense.

Had the commissioners simply ignored it, there would be citizens howling that they swept it under the table and did not let the prosecutor do his/her job.

Sweeping it under the table would have been the old way of doing things in Fayette. Let the professional (the prosecutor) weigh in on this and make the final decision.

There are many ways to view this. Hopefully Inagawa will decide it's not worth the taxpayers time to pursue this but that's his call, not the commissioners'. Inagawa determines if there was a crime committed, no one else.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Sussberg

Its a misdemeanor with such a weak case, its silly. What does the current interim attorney think about this case? Or is he afraid to tell Mr. Brown the truth?

This could have been avoided if the county had procedures in place to backup all computers and a policy for securing county owned equipment.

Everyone knows Mr. Brown has it in for Mr. Bennett and will do anything he can to discredit him. Its personal.

How about Mr. Chairman appoint a commission to study the computer policy and put a policy in place to keep this from happening in the future?

Sometimes you need to weigh the end result.

Larry.Sussberg
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Husband & Father of 2

Actually, I believe they are doing a full review of all policies and procedures.
In addition to eliminating 20 jobs, routing out someone who had a company on the side training county employees, etc.
So far so good including the referral to the prosecutor.
I suspect more crap will follow. That's what happens when elected officials lose touch with what they are elected to do!

Just look at Peachtree City and what's happening in the service departments!

It's ok to disagree! Frankly I think the commission did the right thing by turning it over for a professional to decide.
Sends a loud and clear message, shows county employees that bad behavior is not allowed and sets a higher standard for all to follow. It also shows hard working county employees that this behavior from those in charge is not acceptable. What was done was unfair, unprofessional and wrong for the citizens of Fayette County and those who did it knew very well what they were doing!

Also, if they didn't do this, some citizens would be crying fowl! The good old boy network is sweeping it under the rug!

I actually don't believe its personal and it's all about higher standards and professional conduct.
That's what you get when you hire a high quality county manager as they did.

Lets see what the prosecutor decides! Hopefully it goes nowhere as you predict and life will go on with higher standards set.
That might be the end result! Higher standards, and pride in professionalism.

Husband and Fat...
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Larry: Time will tell

Betcha lunch, when all is said and done, nothing will come of this except a lot of wasted resources. Still wonder what the interim county attorney thinks. Could be very telling that he was not quoted in the article.

I also found it quite amusing to discover that the county marshal was the one to uncover the fact that Mr. Bennett should have reported to commission and not the county administrator. Seems like someone on commission doesn't know as much as he thinks.

We will have to wait and see if the county will change anything in the IT dept related to backing up everyone's computer. We need to be sure the commission falls under the same standards and that personal email is not used for county business.

Don't congratulate commission just yet on the deletion of 20 positions. They were already vacant and was a pretty easy choice.

Not impressed at all with the splost idea. The problem is too large to be fixed in the time period presented. It needs to be a tax line item. It is a temporary and easy way out. I suspect it will not pass either.

Time will tell.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Brown, you are right, the drive should not have been wiped

We all know Mr. Brown is right. Bennett should not have wiped the hard drive clean. But let common sense prevail here. Drop the vendetta and move on to more important issues than a misdemeanor charge. Besides, who can guarantee this moral victory anyway?

How much time and money has this already cost the county, and how much will it cost to send this to the solicitor? How about the commission let us know this information? This is a waste of the taxpayers time and money all because Mr. Brown has a personal axe to grind. Where is Ognio, Otto, Barlow, or McCarty's common sense? Are all afraid to rock the boat with Mr. Brown? Mr. Barlow, how about the next prayer be designated for forgiveness?

Bennett thought he had permission to wipe the data after he sought approval from his buddy Krakeel (interim/outgoing) county administrator. Bennett, Krakeel, and Brown all thought that was the proper chain of command, because it was not until the Marshal discovered otherwise that this was not correct. Perhaps if Mr. Brown was as intelligent as he thinks he is, he would have known this beforehand? But then Mr. Brown likes to run his mouth first.

Perhaps this is a good time for all of the commissioners to study the computer policy and make changes that include backup of computers, policy's to prohibit the use of personal email accounts while performing county business, and perhaps getting the county website to be updated and checked daily.

The bottom line is there is nothing to gain here other than to placate Mr. Browns ego that he was right.

Robert W. Morgan
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Teachable moment on leadership coming up

A wonderful opportunity for Commissioners Ognio and Oddo to represent the overwhelming majority of us voters and taxpayers that could care less about the BrownBennett catfight.

Next commission meeting simply introduce a 2 part proposal
1. To end the Bennett witch hunt and acknowledge nothing is to be gained by pursuing it, although there does need to be a better policy on county-owned computers.
2. Appoint Barlow and McCarty to a committee with the new county manager to come up with a brand new and clearly worded policy on county-owned computers and their content.

This is called effective leadership and moving forward instead of playing politics. It is also called governing.
What's good about the two-part proposal is that it gives Barlow and McCarty good positive reasons for voting for it without being bullied by Brown. For the record I don't think Ognio or Oddo can be bullied.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Morgan you are right and you are wrong

You are spot on for what they need to do

All three new commissioners have not shown any individuality. Check the meeting minutes. Only McCarty has dared to vote opposite Brown on anything to date. Ognio is lead by Brown and his (Ognio's) wife.

Robert W. Morgan
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Well, it is up to Oddo then

if you are correct about Ognio. I haven't seen him kowtow to Brown but I have only been to one meeting this year.

I do know that those that allow themselves to be lead by Brown are seldom reelected. This issue is a perfect example of what not to do.

naturegrl
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agree

agree with Husband and Fat. Where are the other commissioners brains? Why do they let the bully Brown control them? Time has long passed to move on and take care of county business not personal vendettas. Grow up Mr. Brown and act your age. If you can't handle the commission job, please resign.

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