Ga. AG candidate in federal court — as the defendant — Scruggs’ old Insiders suing

In the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, a candidate for Georgia’s attorney general will go to court Thursday morning.

Hodges is being sued for alleged abuse of power in a case involving a powerful South Georgia hospital system and two men who dared to criticize it.

Hodges was the Dougherty County district attorney whose investigation led to criminal charges against the two men, charges that were dismissed by a judge on three separate occasions.

Now, Hodges, one of the two Democrats running for attorney general, is being sued in federal court for violating the civil rights of one of the men he tried to convict.

And, in a final twist, Hodges is being represented in court by the man he hopes to replace. Because Hodges was acting as a state prosecutor, his defense in this case is being handled by the office of Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor.

The hearing Thursday morning is on Hodges’ motion to dismiss the case, and it comes just six months before the July primaries, in which he’ll face state Rep. Rob Teilhet of Smyrna in the Democratic contest. Two Republicans — Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens and former U.S. Attorney Max Wood — also have filed to run for attorney general.

U.S. District Court Judge Louis Sands originally denied Hodges’ motion to dismiss in March.

Suit accuses Hodges of false prosecution

The case, and the overarching story, reads like a legal thriller: threats of violence, powerful interests fighting against private individuals, and potential impact on statewide politics.

While Hodges and the attorney general’s office would not comment for this story, Hodges in the past has maintained that he did nothing improper.Charles Rehberg’s suit essentially accuses him and another prosecutor of filing criminal charges that they knew to be based on fabricated information.

Hodges provided the information gathered through the subpoenas to Phoebe Putney, which the hospital system used to file a civil suit against Rehberg and Bagnato — a suit that was ultimately dropped. Rehberg then countersued Phoebe Putney, and that case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Rehberg and Bagnato took their information to Mississippi litigator Richard Scruggs, who used it as a catalyst for a series of lawsuits filed against hospital systems across the country.

Before the first criminal indictment was filed in late 2005, Hodges recused himself after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote about the case. Baker replaced him with Kelly Burke, the prosecutor in Houston County. Burke brought the case to a grand jury three times, and he, along with Dougherty County investigator James Paulk, are all defendants in Rehberg’s lawsuit.

AJC
1/27/10