Open Arms lawyer: Two can play this game - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Open Arms lawyer: Two can play this game

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March 17, 2006

Albany  --  The attorney for Open Arms says D. A. Ken Hodges broke the law when he accepted money from them to pay his employees. Now Open Arms wants nearly $250,000 back.

It's the latest strike in a battle between the D. A. and Open Arms' Executive Director. Open Arms Attorney, W. T. Gamble, III, says Georgia law prohibits any state employee or agency from accepting money from a private organization, if the money will be used to enforce state laws.

In this case, Open Arms was paying for a D. A. prosecutor and investigator who handled child abuse cases. Attorney Gamble says the agency would not have entered into a contract with Dougherty County to pay for the child felony prosecution team, had they known it was illegal. "It was improper for the D. A. to accept the money. We believe the D. A. should reimburse us."

In this letter to the Dougherty County attorney, Gamble stated that the County should reimburse Open Arms for nearly $250,000. "We want to make sure Open Arms is not placed under any further scrutiny. If they are going to continually raise issues concerns how Open Arms is handled, we have to make certain that we follow all the rules and regulations."

County Attorney Spencer Lee said he couldn't comment on what the county will do until talking with commissioners Monday. But Ken Hodges says the accusations are ridiculous. "If I were breaking the law, and I don't believe I am, they would also be breaking the law, which is the ironic part of them raising this."

"The statue is very clear.," said Gamble. "It is not a violation on the part of a person who would offer the money. It is a violation on the agency for accepting the money." Gamble says the D. A.'s office should not have accused Open Arms Executive Director Beth McKensie of not following state law in calling child protocol committtee meetings.

So he says the D. A. should be held to the same strict standards of the law. "They seem very intent on crossing your 'T's' and dotting your 'I's, and we agree with that," said Gamble. 

Open Arms unexpectedly stop paying the child prosecution team last month. The agency said it didn't have enough money after the state pulled part of its funding.

The County Attorney says Open Arms hasn't paid the County for the employees salaries since August. He says last week Open Arms sent him a letter agreeing to make back payments of about $70,000.

But Thursday's letter said Open Arms won't even pay that.

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