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|State officials investigate complaint against judicial candidate|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|August 17, 2012 00:00|
An ethics complaint filed against Fulton Magistrate Judge Melynee Leftridge in the days before the July 31 primary will be investigated by the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission to determine if any laws were violated.
The complaint was filed by Charlie Stadtlander, a gay voter. Leftridge faced off against open lesbian Jane Morrison in the non-partisan campaign for the open seat of Fulton State Judge. Morrison won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Statdlander accused Leftridge in his complaint of an “apparent elaborate scheme to funnel some $18,500 to a company responsible for maintaining a website www.pirouettesexy.com” that features “pictures of scantly clad women.”
But Leftridge countered in a statement to GA Voice that the company she paid — Pirouette Companies — provides legitimate campaign services, and noted it has also been used by several other candidates, including openly gay State Rep. Simone Bell.
Leftridge denied any wrongdoing at the time and declined further comment in a statement Aug. 14.
“I have an appreciation for, and place great trust in, the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission conducting a thorough investigation into the complaints filed. This investigation is ongoing; therefore, it is inappropriate for me to comment at this time,” she said.
Statdlander said when he filed the complaint on July 25 that he didn’t understand why a judicial candidate was apparently paying close to $20,000 to a dance company that offers classes on strip teasing and pole dancing.
The company also offers boot camps and personal fitness training. The website for the dance company was taken down shortly after the ethics complaint was filed and a new website for “Pirouette Companies” is under construction.
Politics or dance program?
Mitzi Bickers, a longtime political operative, said she consults for Piroutte Companies and started working for the company earlier this year.
The company has a youth program that includes teaching dance to young people, but the money Leftridge paid was to Piroutte Companies and not to a dance company, Bickers said.
“We have not done anything unethical,” she said.
Bickers, who is gay, took an unpaid leave of absence from working for Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration in May to work for Pirouette. Records show that Pirouette was paid more than $115,000 by Citizens for Transportation Mobility, which supported TSPLOST. Reed was a strong outspoken supporter of TSPLOST.
“I took an unpaid leave of absence so there would not be any conflict of interest with TSPLOST,” Bickers said.
Bickers said she encouraged Pirouette in recent months to move toward expanding its services from community service to disadvantaged youth to include election consulting and field work as the election season ramped up.
“We continue to work with youth, through dance and other types of development of the arts. I did help early on with those types of programs,” she said. “But obviously my role is in political consulting.”
The Georgia Secretary of State’s website shows that Pirouette Dance Company changed its name to Pirouette Companies on Feb. 29. The president of the company who signed the document for the name change is listed as Keyla A. Jackson.
Jackson is also listed as the owner of Piroutte Dance Company with the website http://www.pirouetteco.com/.
“On June 4th, the Committee to Elect Leftridge to State Court Judge retained Pirouette Companies to provide specific campaign related duties which are as follows: leafleting, canvassing, research and data, strategic planning and phone banking,” Leftridge said when the complaint was filed.
“Our research shows that Pirouette Companies was retained by several other campaigns, including the statewide campaign for Citizens for Transportation Mobility (T-Splost), to provide similar services this election cycle,” Leftridge said.
In fact, Pirouette Companies is shown to be paid by such candidates as lesbian state Rep. Simone Bell, LGBT-friendly state Rep. Pat Gardner and DeKalb Judge Dax Lopez, all endorsed by LGBT advocacy organization Georgia Equality. Bell, Gardner and Lopez all won their races.
“We are extremely concerned about the false allegation that the Leftridge campaign has been involved in a scheme to funnel campaign contributions to a disreputable company. This allegation is false and Fulton County voters can be assured that the Leftridge Campaign has operated with the highest integrity,” said Leftridge.
UGA Political Science Professor Charles Bullock said he does not know much about Bickers, but knows she has a wide variety of clients who range from Tea Party candidates to Pat Gardner.
“It is surprising she doesn’t have any ideological commitment,” Bulluck said.
The allegations that Bickers worked with what was once a dance company that is now apparently a consulting company “sounds awful strange,” he added.
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