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Court rules in favor of Hodges

ALBANY -- The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Ken Hodges, former Dougherty County district attorney and candidate for attorney general, in a battle over claims he abused his power in a high-profile case he was entangled in as a county prosecutor.

"In this 2003 action, Plaintiff Charles Rehberg sued former District Attorney Kenneth Hodges, specially appointed prosecutor Kelly Burke, and Chief Investigator James Paulk, alleging federal claims for malicious prosecution, retaliatory investigation and prosecution, evidence fabrication, and conspiracy to violate Rehberg's constitutional rights," the court documents read. "Defendants Hodges, Burke, and Paulk, in their individual capacities, appeal the district court's denial of absolute and qualified immunities. After review and oral argument, we affirm in part and reverse in part."

Hodges' attorneys asked the court in January to dismiss the lawsuit contending he violated the civil rights of two men who sent out faxes criticizing the management of Phoebe Putney Health System. His representation argued that he is protected by immunity from the charges because the claims took place while he was performing his duties as a prosecutor.

"I'm gratified by the court's decision, and I look forward to continuing my public service to the people of Georgia," he said in a statement released from his campaign Thursday.

In 2003, anonymous faxes critical of the company began making their way through the community, and an investigation was launched into the sources of the faxes -- which divulged information on Phoebe's executive salaries, political connections and financial holdings. The investigation eventually led to Charles Rehberg, an accountant, and Dr. John Bagnato, a prominent surgeon in the area.

Rehberg's attorneys claim Hodges, then the district attorney, helped by using grand jury subpoenas even though the grand jury wasn't yet investigating the case. Rehberg filed a federal lawsuit arguing Hodges launched an investigation into him as a "favor" to the hospital. A grand jury indicted Rehberg on charges of aggravated assault, burglary and harassing phone calls. The sufficiency of the charges were called into question, and eventually dismissed.

A phone message left at Rehberg's office Thursday afternoon went unreturned.

Hodges is one of four candidates looking to replace Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and will compete in the primary in July against Rep. Rob Teilhet, D-Smyrna. Cobb County Commission Chair Sam Olens and former U.S. Attorney Max Wood are also running.