Court throws out Kenerly indictment

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

LAWRENCEVILLE -- An indictment against former Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, accused by a special grand jury of bribery, was thrown out by the state Court of Appeals on Thursday.

"While we are certainly pleased with today's victory on a point of law, make no mistake that we are also ready to win this case on the facts," Kenerly's attorney Pat McDonough said. "I have reviewed the evidence in this case and it is clear that Kevin Kenerly is innocent of these charges. We hope that today's decision by the Court of Appeals will end this matter but if it does not, we stand ready to defend Kevin Kenerly's innocence in whatever forum is necessary and we remain confident that he will ultimately be vindicated."

After a yearlong investigation into questionable county land purchases, Kenerly was accused of accepting a $1 million bribe to facilitate a favorable price for a developer selling land to the government for a park. The special grand jury also caused the ouster of Commissioner Charles Bannister last year, who resigned to avoid a perjury charge.

But Kenerly's attorneys argued that a special grand jury is only empowered to investigate, not to indict. While a local judge agreed with District Attorney Danny Porter, the Court of Appeals ruled that the Georgia law on special purpose grand juries only enumerates the ability to investigate.

"It is a fundamental principle that the legislature, and not the courts, is empowered by the Constitution to decide public policy," the ruling said, citing another case. "Therefore, any change to or expansion of the powers of a special grand jury must be implemented by the General Assembly."

After the indictment was released in October, Kenerly resigned last November, less than two months shy of finishing his fourth term in office.

Despite the ruling, the Braselton businessman's legal troubles are not over.

Porter plans to present his case against Kenerly to one of two grand juries currently sitting in the county. A decision could come in the next two weeks.

"I expect that they will return indictments," Porter said, referring to the previous bribery charge and two misdemeanor charges of failing to disclose a business relationship in zoning cases.

At the same time, Porter said he will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider their ruling and if denied will appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

"I don't think it's a correct reading of the statute," Porter said. "I know there are other district attorneys that are empaneling special grand juries to investigate criminal behavior. I don't think we can let that stand."