UPDATE 4:32 pm: Judge rules Bickers’ request moot
by Robin Kemp
A federal judge has ruled moot a request by Clayton County Chief of Staff and Chief Chaplain Mitzi Bickers to block prosecution witnesses from taking the Fifth Amendment on the stand.
Judge John T. Story ruled late Monday, “The Court finds that Defendant’s Motion in Limine is moot. The Government asserts that it does not know of any potential witnesses who intend to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege…. Additionally, Defendant has not pointed to any specific witnesses who she believes intend to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege…. Accordingly, the Court dismisses this Motion in Limine as moot. However, the Court cautions that neither party is permitted to call a witness who intends to answer essentially every question by asserting the Fifth Amendment privilege.”
Bickers’ federal bribery trial starts Wednesday, March 9 at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 1907 of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building.
Both sides had asked the judge to rule on whether or not Bickers can prevent testimony by any government witnesses who might take the Fifth Amendment. The question also touched on Bickers’ right to cross-examine any witnesses.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures the right of witnesses not to incriminate themselves during testimony. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of the accused to confront any witnesses against them.
5th Amendment, U.S Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
6th Amendment, U.S. Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
On Friday, Bickers’ attorneys filed a motion in limine, making a last-minute request for Judge Steve T. Jones to block any federal witnesses who might take the Fifth if they were to testify.
“Based on our review of discovery, and other investigative efforts, undersigned counsel maintains a good faith concern that some witnesses for the government may invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during their testimony,” the motion reads in part.
The defense noted that a judge can prevent someone who will take the Fifth on everything from testifying at all, and that “the prosecution may not deliberately call a witness closely identified with the defendant, knowing that the witness will assert his right to remain silent.”
They argue that a witness who might take the Fifth during testimony would sway the jury against Bickers and “[rob] Defendant Bickers of her right to confront witnesses in regard to those questions.”
The defense also asked the judge to block the government from “introduc[ing] prior statements from any witness who would invoke the Fifth Amendment if called as this would violate Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses.”
On Saturday, prosecutors filed a response, noting, “Neither side has the right to benefit from any inferences the jury may draw simply from the witness’ assertion of the privilege either alone or in conjunction with questions that have been put to him.”
According to the prosecution, “no potential witnesses or potential witnesses’ attorneys have advised the government that they intend to assert their Fifth Amendment protections if called to testify. And Bickers has declined to identify any witness who has been subpoenaed by the government that she believes intends to invoke the Fifth….Therefore, Bickers’s motion is moot and should be denied.”
The government pointed out that, if Bickers knows of any witness who plans to take the Fifth, “she should identify the witness to the government and the Court to avoid any potential issues at trial.”
Prosecutors also said that Bickers’ request to block prior statements from witnesses who might take the Fifth “does not cite any case law to support her assertion.”
In its request that the court block any witnesses who plan to take the Fifth, Bickers’ defense had cited a case, Crawford v. Washington, that applied to a taped statement by a defendant’s wife in Washington State, which prohibits one spouse from testifying against another spouse without permission. In that case, a husband was charged with assault and attempted murder after stabbing another man who allegedly had tried to rape his wife. Prosecutors tried to use a recording of a police interrogation of the wife to show the stabbing “was not in self-defense,” and the wife did not testify because state law prevented her from testifying against her husband. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the state should not have allowed her testimony because he did not have a chance to cross-examine her.
In the Bickers case, prosecutors argue, “Crawford only applies to testimonial statements, and the Crawford analysis is inapplicable to a variety of prior statements.”
In March 2018, a federal grand jury indicted Bickers on 11 criminal counts related to alleged conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, wire fraud, and falsifying a tax return and bribery while she was working for the Kasim Reed administration at Atlanta City Hall. In October 2018, a superseding indictment added a twelfth count of bribery to the original charges.
Federal charges against Mitzi Bickers
Count 1: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery: “with Elvin R. Mitchell, Jr., Charles P. Richards, Jr. and others.” Both Mitchell and Richards pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government.
Count 2: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery: “to enrich herself and others by soliciting and accepting payments directly and indirectly from Mitchell, Richards, and their companies in exchange for BICKERS’s agreement to represent their businesses and to obtain lucrative City of Atlanta contracts for their companies through the bribery of public officials.”
Count 3: Bribery: “Mitchell, Richards, and their businesses paid BICKERS, the Bickers Group, Pirouette Companies, and other companies owned or associated with BICKERS almost $2 million in proceeds relating to the bribery scheme set forth in Count 2.”
Counts 4-6: Money Laundering: “attempted to enrich herself and others by obtaining lucrative government contracts with the City of Jackson, Mississippi through the provision of money, goods and services to public officials intending to influence and reward the public officials for the exercise of their official duties.” Bickers is charged with using money she got through the alleged scheme to buy a $774,000 house on Lake Spivey, along with a 2014 GMC Acadia Denali and four WaveRunners totalling $92,400.38.
Counts 7-10: Wire Fraud: “BICKERS filed multiple false City of Atlanta Financial Disclosure Forms under penalty of perjury via the Internet. From February 2010 to May 22, 2013, BICKERS received payments of more than $5,000 from sources other than the City of Atlanta that she failed to disclose and in violation of City of Atlanta code. During this period, BICKERS continued to receive her City of Atlanta salary.”
Count 11: Tampering with a Witness or Informant: “BICKERS, aided and abetted by others known and unknown, knowingly used and attempted to use intimidation, threats, and corrupt persuasion; and engaged in misleading conduct towards Elvin R. Mitchell, Jr.”
Count 12: Filing False Tax Returns: “BICKERS stated that her total income for 2011 was $57,986 (on line 22), when she then and there knew that was not an accurate statement of her total income.” Prosecutors allege she made “approximately $650,000” that year.
If convicted of any count from 1-3 or 7-10, Bickers could lose her house on Lake Spivey, the Denali, the WaveRunners, a Cadillac DeVille, and “a sum of money in United States currency representing the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offenses.”
Bickers also was working as a political campaign consultant during the time of the indictment. After she was forced to resign from Atlanta City Hall, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill gave her a corrections officer’s job at the jail at $37,708–even though Bickers is not POST-certified as a law enforcement officer. Hill quickly promoted her to Chief Chaplain, then Chief of Staff, where Bickers now makes over $100,000 a year. Bickers had run Hill’s political campaign, as she had Reed’s and Jackson, MS Mayor Tony Yarber’s.