JONESBORO — The final round of motions before the beginning of next week’s trial against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill will be held Friday in Judge Albert Collier’s courtroom.
The state, led by special prosecutor Layla Zon, is expected to ask Collier to not allow Hill to wear a uniform or badge or possess a firearm during his courtroom appearances. Zon doesn’t want sheriff’s deputies observing the trial to wear uniforms or badges.
Zon also wants Collier to order Hill from conducting activities that can be construed as influencing or tainting the jury pool. Hill frequently uses Robo Calls to personally wish Clayton County residents happy holidays and has implemented a text alert program through Nixle. His deputies man a table in the courthouse lobby and ask exiting patrons to sign up for the alerts.
The alerts let subscribers know when the sheriff’s office has made arrests, and warn of traffic jams and severe weather.
All that, alleged Zon, allows Hill unfettered access to residents from where the jury pool will be formed. Zon is asking that the Robo Calls stop and the Nixle table be removed from the lobby.
Jury selection is due to start Monday. Collier said 350 jury summonses have been issued, twice the number typically sent out for trial week. The summonses included questionnaires to help move along the process of selection.
Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said he is working with courthouse officials to ensure adequate parking for jurors. There is also a concern about getting all those jurors into the courthouse in a timely manner since there are only two security gates in the lobby.
In September, Zon and defense attorney Steve Frey told Collier they could each present their cases in three days, meaning the trial could take six days. However, there is no way to tell how long it will take to seat a jury.
Hill was indicted in January 2012 on 37 felony counts mostly related to his first term in office from 2005 to 2008. In October, Collier granted a defense motion to dismiss two racketeering charges and three theft by taking counts related to those charges. All five counts involve the accusation of the theft by Hill of $24,000 in his campaign funds.
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,” stated 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 charge, known as RICO, 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,” stated Collier’s ruling.
Zon appealed the dismissal of the counts but the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled recently it had no jurisdiction over the decision. With the appeal thrown out, the case returned to Superior Court for trial.
Hill lost a re-election bid in 2008 but regained the seat last year and returned to office in January, almost a year after being indicted. If he is convicted on one felony, he will become ineligible to serve in office. He maintains his innocence.