Lawyers: Was DeKalb schools’ Pat Pope a bigamist?
MULTIPLE CHOICE: When did Pat Pope, a central figure in the criminal investigation of DeKalb County school construction contracts, divorce her first husband?
- 2006 (after marrying husband #2)
NOT-SO-HELPFUL HINT: At one time or another, she’s cited each of those years as the correct date.
ANSWER: 2006, according to the final divorce decree signed by Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger.
Pope’s conflicting answers have surfaced time and again in court documents filed by Heery/Mitchell, the school district’s former construction management firm. Heery/Mitchell has sought to undermine her credibility as a key witness in a multimillion-dollar civil suit but Seeliger, who is also presiding in that case, has barred its lawyers from questioning her further about the divorce.
Pope, once the district’s chief operations officer and overseer of its construction program, confirmed the marriage mess this month when she filed to annul her marriage to an architect with multiple contracts with DeKalb schools. In court papers, she said she was “unknowingly” married to another man when she and Anthony Pope tied the knot in 2005.
The Popes have come under scrutiny as DeKalb District Attorney Gwen Keyes-Fleming has seized records from their home and offices in a yearlong criminal probe. Pat Pope has remained on the job at an annual salary of nearly $200,000 but was reassigned with little or nothing to do.
She is a central figure in the district’s three-year legal dispute with Heery/Mitchell. The firm filed suit in 2007 claiming DeKalb still owed it about a half-million dollars for management of the district’s SPLOST II construction program. DeKalb filed a counterclaim alleging that Heery/Mitchell had negligently allowed as much as $120 million in cost overruns.
During a November 2007 deposition, Pope’s attorney directed her not to answer further questions about the divorce when Heery/Mitchell’s lawyers asked about it. At that time, Pope said she divorced her first husband, Sulayman Clark, in 2001. DeKalb court officials lost the divorce decree, she testified, and “I had to take my paperwork back in, but it was all straightened out in 2006.”
In fact, Pope’s divorce petition was dismissed “for want of prosecution” in 2002. Court files make no mention of lost paperwork.
In February 2005, on the Popes’ application for a marriage license, she said the first marriage was dissolved by mutual consent in 2003.
Pope filed another divorce petition in February 2006. This time, a divorce decree was granted.
In court papers, Heery/Mitchell questioned whether Pope’s statement on her marriage license constituted false swearing. They also asked whether Pope’s second marriage was valid and whether she might have falsely obtained insurance or tax withholding benefits from the DeKalb school district.
Seeking to compel Pope to explain the discrepancies, Heery/Mitchell lawyer Jack N. Sibley argued:
As a witness in this case, her credibility is indeed an important factor. The jury is entitled to know if she is one who is entitled to belief. Would a trustworthy person submit under oath a false application for a marriage license? Would such a person submit an application for employment in which her marital status was misrepresented? Would such a person allow an application for employment to be processed after the issue of her marital status has become the subject of a conflict of interest examination? Why would such a person testify that she was divorced, if, in fact she was not? Why would such a person be willing to testify that persons in another sector of the DeKalb County Government, “misplaced” court records regarding her ‘divorce’ in 2001? Why would she testify that a final judgment was rendered in the very court where this case is pending, when, in fact, such judgment may not have existed at all?
Pope’s attorneys have complained, sometimes bitterly, about Heery/Mitchell’s questions about the matter. In 2007, attorney David J. Larson wrote Heery/Mitchell’s lawyers:
I understand that there has been some indication that you or your clients intend to take these matters to the press or the public in some other fashion. Again, such an effort would be solely for the purposes of embarrassing and intimidating Ms. Pope. I’ve reviewed the relevant statutory provisions and there is no evidence that Ms. Pope has committed any criminal violation. Should you or your client take steps to present this information to the media or the public or assert that Ms. Pope is guilty of any criminal conduct would be defamatory and would subject you and your client to all appropriate remedies under Georgia law.
In January 2008, lawyers for the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) objected to more questions on the subject:
Plaintiffs have scoured Ms. Pope’s personal marital history, dredged up her divorce, and magnified an alleged technical misstep in obtaining that divorce — all in an obvious attempt to embarrass or intimidate Ms. Pope and DCSD. … To protect Ms. Pope from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, and undue burden, DCSD requests that the Court enter an order prohibiting any further attempts by Plaintiffs to obtain the testimony they seek in their Motion.
The judge has delayed the trial in the Heery/Mitchell case, which had been scheduled to begin March 1. No new trial date has been set.