Gwinnett County prosecutors have dropped an investigation into an attorney who had been accused of overbilling the county's public defender office.
Although the move clears the lawyer, Rodney Harris, of charges of wrongdoing, both the district attorney and Harris' lawyer said the county's public defender office needs more oversight. The head of the county's PD office expressed confidence in new billing software to catch errors.
Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Michael C. Clark last year ordered a criminal review after an audit discovered that Harris, now a Gwinnett County Recorder's Court judge, billed the county for more than $1.1 million during his six years doing contract work.
Some of Harris' invoices showed he billed for more than 24 hours in a single day on at least three occasions. Other invoices were illegible or incomplete, which prevented the county's Performance Analysis Division from fully auditing them.
But District Attorney Danny Porter said this week that his investigators concluded after examining a sample of Harris' invoices that "it would be impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt which portion of the total payment, if any, was misappropriated."
Harris declined to comment when reached Tuesday, instead referring questions to his attorney, Walter Britt.
"We are happy the district attorney's office investigated it fully and took into consideration what we knew to be true, that there is an accepted custom or practice for certain amounts to be charged per act, such as opening or closing a file," said Britt, a partner at Chandler, Britt, Jay, Beck & Zwald in Buford.
In a letter to Clark dated Aug. 21, Porter wrote that flat rate billing may explain some of the accounting irregularities in Harris' invoices.
"During the course of the investigation, my investigators learned that there are certain unwritten standards which are permitted by the Indigent Defense Committee," Porter wrote. "By applying these previously unknown billing practices to Mr. Harris' invoices, my investigators were able to explain the days where it appears that Mr. Harris worked more than 24 hours in a day."
For example, contracted attorneys were allowed to bill .3 hour to close a file and 1.5 hours to review and prepare discovery motions.