By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — The Georgia Court of Appeals Tuesday threw out the state's appeal of five indicted counts dropped by a Clayton County Superior Court judge in the case against Sheriff Victor Hill.
The four-page opinion stated that the higher court lacked jurisdiction. The ruling means that Judge Albert Collier's dismissal of five of 37 felonies facing Hill will stand.
The Justices ruled that the state should have filed a certificate of immediate review of the dismissal, not a direct appeal, because Collier didn't drop the entire indictment.
Steve Frey, one of Hill's four defense attorneys, agreed.
"It had been our position all along," he said. "We're extremely pleased."
Special prosecutor Layla Zon said she was disappointed the issues were not decided on merit but added she is ready for trial.
"We'll likely have a trial date soon," she said. "We have no intention to appeal further. We're looking forward to going to trial and bringing this case to Clayton County jurors."
Hill took office in January, nearly a year after being indicted on 37 felony counts mostly related to his previous term in office, from 2005 to 2008. Prosecutors allege he used county vehicles and credit cards to make personal trips with at least one of his employees.
Some of the charges alleged Hill used campaign funds for personal living expenses.
His defense attorneys successfully argued for the dismissal of the five counts because they allege racketeering violations without charging the predicate offenses. In dropping those counts, Collier ruled that Hill also held superior ownership interest in his campaign re-election account and therefore could not be charged with theft by taking.
The filing of the appeal set back the start of the trial, which was to begin in November. In the meantime, Hill took office and has kept a low profile, making a handful of public appearances but avoiding reporters.
With the ruling, Frey is hopeful to get a trial date and see Hill exonerated.
"We expect that the court will issue another scheduling order by which we will abide," he said.