Court of appeals upholds Ken Hodges immunity from suit

Photo by Bill Strickland

Photo by Bill Strickland

In its decision, the Appeals Court affirmed the District Court's ruling that Hodges was serving in his capacity as chief prosecutor for Dougherty County when he tried to get Hart jailed in a Georgia prison following a 24-month federal prison sentence that Hart agreed to serve after pleading guilty to wire fraud and bribery charges.

The court, however, vacated part of the District Court's ruling, saying that Hodges' statements to The Albany Herald following Hart's release from federal prison did not entitle him to absolute immunity just because of his role as a DA and that the District Court erred in that decision. The Appeals Court also remanded part of the case back to the U.S. District Court.

Hart was indicted in federal and state courts on charges related to a bribery conspiracy stemming from a payment he received in exchange for declining investigate a blackmail scheme.

A deal was reached between Hart, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Hodges. Under that deal, Hart would serve a 27-month sentence in a federal prison and upon his release, be subject to a 93-month probated sentence on the state charges, giving him a total incarceration time of of 27 months in a federal facility.

But after Hart was released three months early in 2003, he said that Hodges called authorities in Arkansas where he was imprisoned and had them pick him up in shackles from the federal facility and hold for transport back to a Georgia prison to serve the remainder of his term after a "detainer" was placed on him by the Georgia Department of Corrections. After about 28 hours of being locked up after his release by federal authorities, the court ordered his immediate release from confinement and later granted a sentence of time-served on the state charges.

The statement in question that Hodges gave to the Herald on March 14, 2003, says in part, "If he does (report) he will serve out the balance of his prison term. If he does not, he will have new legal issues to deal with."

Hart is suing based on his assertion that Hodges and co-defendants William Amideo, the general counsel for the Georgia Department of Corrections, and Frederick Head, the warden of Jackson State Prison, overstepped their professional bounds during the course of the incident.

Hodges, who is running for Georgia attorney general, also is being sued in a separate case currently under consideration by the 11th Circuit of Appeals on whether he overstepped his bounds as DA when he got involved in a dispute between Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and local medical office accountant Charles Rehberg over the dissemination of the Phoebe Factoids -- a series of faxes critical of Phoebe's financial dealings.

Hearings in that case have been scheduled for January.