JONESBORO A Clayton County Superior Court judge dropped five charges related to campaign funds in the state's case against former sheriff Victor Hill but also denied a slew of defense motions.
Judge Albert Collier granted the defense motion to dismiss two racketeering charges and three theft by taking counts relating to those charges. All five counts involve the accusation of the theft by Hill of $24,000 in his campaign funds. Hill faces 32 other felonies.
In his ruling, Collier said state law does not identify a legal owner of a campaign fund.
For a criminal charge of theft by taking to stand, a victim who suffered a loss must be identified. Collier noted that state law only dictates how campaign funds can be spent.
"While the Georgia statutes do not establish ownership of those campaign funds, it clearly states they are not the personal assets of the candidate and the statute does not allow unfettered use of those funds," states Collier's ruling.
Collier said state law "specifically sets out how campaign funds may be used and that the code section prescribes the punishment for that violation as a misdemeanor."
For a racketeering, known as RICO, charge to stand against a defendant, the underlying allegation must constitute a felony.
"The Court finds the predicate acts for the allegations of (racketeering) allege a misdemeanor which cannot justify the prosecution of a RICO charge," states Collier's ruling.
During a Sept. 10 motions hearing, defense attorney Steve Frey argued that Hill owned his campaigns and therefore could not be charged with stealing from himself. Special prosecutor Layla Zon called the assertion "absurd."
Frey said Friday he was pleased with Collier's ruling.
"We're pleased with the court's ruling and confident in our defense," said Frey. "We'll be ready for trial Nov. 26. We hoped to get more but we're prepared."
Zon doesn’t see the ruling as much of a victory for the defense, noting that it doesn’t address whether or not a misappropriation actually occurred.
“Ultimately the issue the judge had to decide with respect to the theft of campaign money was whether or not current Georgia law provides for felony or misdemeanor punishment for misappropriation of these funds,” she said. “The judge's order, which only addressed five counts of the indictment, did not address whether or not in fact a misappropriation had occurred."
Collier also denied a batch of defense motions, including one to dismiss the indictments based on violation of Hill's due process rights.
Hill’s 32 other felonies are related to his four years as Clayton County's first black sheriff. Hill won a run-off election in August but faces a write-in candidate, Garland Watkins, Nov. 6. Conviction of just one felony will keep Hill from taking office if he wins.
Some of the felonies involve his former spokesman, Jonathan Newton, who is also under indictment in a separate case. Prosecutors allege that Hill directed Newton to work on his biography while on the county payroll.
That allegation is outlined in Hill's count 20: "He unlawfully take the services of Clayton County Sheriff's employee Jonathan Newton, the property of Clayton County, by directly and indirectly ordering Jonathan Newton, while said employee was on duty and while said employee was being paid by Clayton County, to work on a book that Victor Keith Hill was writing."
Hill is also accused of ordering Newton to work on his campaign while on the county clock.
The indictment alleges Hill violated his oath of public office when he vowed to "take only my lawful fees."
Nash, 35, reportedly testified before the grand jury, giving evidence against him. Hill's indictment includes a charge he tried to influence Nash in September to not testify against him before a special grand jury.
"With the intent to deter Naomi Nash, a witness, from testifying freely, fully and truthfully to a matter pending in front of a Special Purpose Grand Jury of Clayton County, did unlawfully offer and deliver services of an attorney and assistance with personal tasks as a benefit, reward and consideration" after Nash was locked up for her refusal to testify, alleges the indictment.
The charges also confirm rumors that swirled around Hill during his stay in office, including that he repeatedly put an employee, Beatrice Powell, on paid administrative or sick leave so she could take personal vacations with him.
"He ordered that a sheriff's office employee be placed on paid administrative leave so that she could travel with Victor Keith Hill on personal trips and still receive a salary," according to the indictments.
The indictments also allege he illegally profited from his position as sheriff through various means. The charges tie Hill directly to the May indictment of his former spokesman, Jonathan Newton, and that he illegally profited from a kickback scheme involving the publication of his newsletter, "The Star."
"He illegally profited from his position as sheriff by allowing a sheriff's office employee to receive payment from Clayton County in form of 'kickbacks,' from the company that printed a publication entitled, 'The Sheriff's Star,'" alleges the indictment.
The indictment charges Hill with multiple counts of theft by taking for allegedly taking personal trips in the county's 2006 Dodge Charger and 2003 Ford Excursion to Helen, Ga., Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi, using county fuel or by using Clayton County funds to buy fuel out of town.
Powell is also under indictment.
Hill, 47, took office Jan. 1, 2005, and fired 27 deputies that first day. He posted snipers on the courthouse roof to protect him against those seeking violent retribution.
The deputies sought legal relief instead, hiring attorney Harlan Miller to sue Hill and the county. The deputies prevailed and got their jobs back and a multi-million dollar settlement. The lawsuit was one of many filed against Hill related to his term in office.