Lawyer admits Kelley called law partners prior to calling police chief for help at hit and run scene

Note: This story has been updated to clarify State Rep. Trey Kelley’s employment besides his legislative work. – KtE

State Rep. Trey Kelley was taken into custody in December 2020 following an indictment on a reckless conduct charge.

State Representative Trey Kelley sat in court next to his attorney Lester Tate on Friday morning straight-faced and kept his head down reading while arguments were made for and against quashing the indictment made charging him with reckless conduct for his involvement in the death of Eric Keais in September 2019.

Kelley, who was indicted in the second count alongside Ryan Dover late last year and arrested in December, will have to wait at least a month before Senior Judge Stephen Schuster of Cobb County determines whether the current indictment will go forward or not.

The reckless conduct charge is a misdemeanor. He had previously submitted a plea of not guilty on the lone count.

Both the prosecution and the defense have until July 8 to submit versions of orders they would like to see the judge rule upon before he makes his final decision.

Friday’s hearing focused on the subtle argument of what responsibility Kelley had that night on September 11, 2019, when Dover is alleged to have struck Keais in his truck and called Kelley for help.

Judge Schuster at the opening of the hearing sought to have each party give a brief overview of the case, which District Attorney Jack Browning said was not the proper form to do so because a jury of Kelley’s peers had not yet heard all the facts, and further argued that trying to present any facts to stipulate over was essentially the defense seeking a summary judgment on the case.

The Judge, agreeing that he would not consider any facts of the case during the hearing but only those stipulated in the indictment, turned to Tate for him to make his arguments throughout nearly an hourlong hearing on Friday in Polk County Courthouse No. 2.

It is important to note that as Tate explained his client’s view of what happened on that fateful night in September 2019, at no point does he or the defense say the indictment’s facts were incorrect. He did however provide a version of events where Kelley was not entirely clear whether he was there as a friend of Dover – a political supporter of Kelley’s – or as his attorney.

He additionally admitted that Kelley, also a local attorney, had called a partner at his law firm Parker and Lundy prior to calling Cedartown Police Chief Jamie Newsome that night as well.

Newsome sent out an officer to look around the area, and that officer ultimately found Keais’ mortally injured in the ditch from where Dover’s truck had struck him and the bicycle he was riding at the time.

“Its a tragedy this happened, and we’re very sad that it has brought us here today,” Tate said during his arguments before the court.

Boiled down, Tate’s argument was two-fold: first, the way the state structured their indictment for the reckless conduct charge was predicated on the indictment presented and came back as a true bill in Count 1 against Dover for felony hit and run was too vague to be applied to the second count and Kelley’s charge.

Essentially, Tate wants the court to quash the indictment on the basis that because Kelley was not directly involved in the hit and run, applying the criminal acts of Dover onto Kelley because he didn’t immediately call 911 was vaguely unconstitutional based on the indictment.

If the court wasn’t willing to agree to the first point, Tate’s second argument was that despite Kelley having come to the scene after Dover called him and drove around the area where Keais was struck, even if they had found him on the side of the road in the ditch before the police did just over an hour after the hit and run occurred, it was not Kelley’s responsibility legally to call authorities at all.

Georgia has no Good Samaritan law protecting those who voluntarily provide aid at a scene, nor any law holding people responsible for rendering aid during any circumstances.

Browning, arguing to keep the indictment on behalf of the state, still held to his point that he didn’t want to get into the facts of the case before a jury had a chance to hear the state’s presentation first, and told Judge Schuster he believed the appropriate time to challenge whether the case had any constitutional issues was after the state had rested.

To counter Tate’s argument about the structuring of the indictments, Browning pointed out that the foundation of the second count was over whether Kelley allowed Dover to continue to commit a felony via his actions in the Hit and Run fatality of Keais did meet the standard of reckless conduct. If Kelley had stopped at any point and called 911 – instead of as Browning stated spent nine minutes on the phone with a law partner at his firm before calling Chief Newsome – his actions wouldn’t have been charged.

He further argued that Dover – who drove his truck away from the scene with a caved-in windshield “might want to stop and check it out” instead of calling Kelley for help.

Before calling the hearing to a close, the judge sought both parties to submit potential orders for his approval on the case and gave them until July 8 to provide that information by email. Judge Schuster has the options of choosing one order or another, or writing his own order should he determine neither fit the particulars of the case itself.

It will likely be sometime around early July before Judge Schuster makes a ruling on the defense’s request to quash the indictment.

Browning could restructure the indictment and present it back to another Grand Jury should Judge Schuster agree with the defense. He is expected to do so should Schuster uphold the defense’s request.

Check back for more details about the case as they become available.

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