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.