Marlow, her political adviser Robert Trim and Cherokee GOP Secretary Barbara Knowles all pleaded not guilty to felony charges of making false statements that superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo tried to run them over with his car.
The trio, each of whom faces multiple counts in the case, sat quietly with their attorneys during the hearing and made no statements before the court. They left quickly afterward without comment.
The hearing Wednesday came two months after the case against Marlow, Trim and Knowles stalled in court when Cherokee Chief Superior Court Judge Jackson Harris recused himself because his wife is a teacher in the school district.
Harris reassigned the case to Superior Court Judge Ellen McElyea, who elected to keep it Wednesday, though she did say she wanted to disclose something to the court.
“My administrative assistant, Doug Barnes, is a member of the Cherokee County Educational Foundation. He does not do that as a representative of my office,” McElyea said during the hearing. “Ex officio members of that organization include Dr. Petruzielo …”
McElyea said Barnes was willing to take a leave of absence from the organization, if need be.
Marlow’s attorney, Brian Steel, said if it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience, “we would respectfully ask” Barnes to take a leave of absence.
Later, Steel explained to McElyea he had withdrawn a request for his client’s indictment to be overturned. That indictment was handed down by a Cherokee County grand jury in October and accused Marlow, Trim and Knowles of lying to the Canton Police Department when they allegedly said Petruzielo tried to hit them with his car after a contentious school board meeting June 13. Petruzielo and Marlow have often been at odds since she took office in 2013.
Steel had argued in his request Marlow was “denied her right” to appear before the grand jury, but he said during the hearing Wednesday he had looked over case law and decided there weren’t legal grounds to pursue having the indictment thrown out.
Meanwhile, the state’s request to institute a “gag order,” limiting all parties involved from speaking about the case publicly, got shot down by McElyea.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Rachelle Carnesale filed that request Nov. 20, citing “significant media interest” in the case.
Carnesale explained to McElyea on Wednesday that evidence in the case had been leaked to the media during a hearing of a panel which had been charged with deciding if Marlow should keep her seat on the school board as her criminal case moved forward.
That evidence was a surveillance tape that captured the alleged incident outside the Painted Pig Tavern in downtown Canton, where the trio was walking at the time. Steel played part of the tape during the panel’s meeting, and it ended up being recorded by Atlanta television media and broadcast.
Steel told the judge he had no intention of leaking evidence.
“I did not release anything to the media; they happened to be there,” he said.
Carnesale said she wasn’t accusing Steel of intending the evidence to get out, but she wanted to stop any other evidence from making it into the public eye. Some of the evidence also includes “significant footage of the defendants re-enacting their experience,” and telling their stories, the prosecutor said.
Attorneys for all three defendants were against the gag order.
Knowles’ attorney, Anthony Morgese, said each of trio is sometimes confronted and might be baited into mentioning the case.
“There are times (Knowles) may be cornered and she may respond,” he said. “If that should occur, I don’t want her to be held in contempt of court.”
McElyea ruled against the request for a gag order, saying all parties in the case had an interest to not have information that would compromise the proceedings leaked to the public.