By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — The date for the criminal case against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill has been specially set to begin Aug. 5, according to an order signed Friday by the trial judge.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier issued the order that the trial start at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, and continue in his courtroom until it is concluded. In September, special prosecutor Layla Zon and Hill 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, 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," 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.
The trial will come after the six-month point in Hill's administration, which could mark another hurdle for him to clear. Under Georgia law, an elected sheriff has six months to become certified under the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council if he or she is not already certified.
Hill has been certified for years but that certification was suspended when he was indicted. POST officials have said they will not reinstate his certification until his case is resolved. That won't happen before July 1. Frey has argued that Hill legally holds a certification, it is just suspended.