State Sen. Don Balfour speaks following his acquittal
A Fulton County jury found state Sen. Don Balfour (R-Snellville) not guilty on 18 criminal charges Thursday. He spoke to media afterward.
STATEMENT FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL SAM OLENS
Today, a jury returned a not-guilty verdict in The State v. Donald Balfour. Attorney General Samuel S. Olens offered the following comment:
“I am very disappointed in the result of this case. The GBI investigation revealed that Senator Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur: miles he did not drive, days he did not work, hotels other people paid for. Those requests were too numerous and systematic to be simply isolated mistakes. If those requests had been submitted by an unelected state employee, they would have been prosecuted, and a state senator should not be held to a lower standard. I was convinced that this case should be brought. A grand jury agreed.
At the same time, I have great respect for our jury system generally and for the specific jury that was seated in this case. I thank the jurors for their service and accept their decision, which is final. I also thank Judge Newkirk for handling this case fairly and efficiently.
I do not apologize for standing for the principle that no person is above the law. I will never apologize for that principle. And I will continue to work every day for the people of Georgia and for the rule of law.”
ATLANTA — Vicki Hamilton is a firecracker of a foreperson.
Hair drawn back tightly and body bundled up inside a red winter coat, the diminuitive woman spoke confidently — and loudly — to a swarm of reporters outside the Fulton County courthouse Thursday, telling them why she and her fellow jurors had reached a not guilty verdict.
The defendant they had just acquitted was state Sen. Don Balfour.
“When you started looking at the dollar amounts of the charges, you came to see, ‘Are we really here to talk about this? Couldn’t this have been resolved in a different way?’” Hamilton said.
Balfour, a Republican from Snellville, was indicted last year on 18 separate counts, most alleging that he filed for and received mileage and per diem reimbursements to which he wasn’t entitled. The longtime senator and his defense team maintained all along that the reimbursements — totalling less than $3,000 over a five-year period — were mistakes and the product of poor record keeping.
After deliberating for about 3.5 hours between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, Hamilton and 11 other members of the jury agreed.
Flanked by friends, family and his attorneys, Balfour spoke passionately about his acquittal.
“I have spent 14 months of my life going through hell,” he said. “Fourteen months. And not just me. My wife, my family, my name … I want to thank the jury for what I would call the wisdom of Solomon, and for figuring out what the right thing to do is.”
Over three days of proceedings, a series of calendars, reimbursement forms, vouchers and legislative rosters were examined ad nauseam. Through the indictment and three state’s witnesses, Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin attempted to make the case that Balfour, an executive with Waffle House, knowingly filed erroneous paperwork to pocket extra money.
Though more high-dollar accusations were made — including a roughly $1,300 trip that Balfour was reimbursed for by both the state and Waffle House — most of the charges dealt with amounts less than $35.
Vindicated, Balfour said he and his wife were looking forward to spending a week with their son before he’s deployed for his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. He balked at discussing the political side of things but admitted he was nervous throughout the trial.
“Today’s a good day. Justice was done,” Balfour said. ” … Was I worried? Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s 18 charges, who knows what could happen.”
Defense attorney Ken Hodges was less diplomatic.
“I think you all saw for the last three days while we were in court what a tremendous waste of the taxpayer money we’ve gone through,” Hodges said. “We’ve had multiple agencies, multiple GBI agents, multiple assistant attorney generals and Sam Olens himself, who was driving this train. And the taxpayers ought to be offended. I’m offended.”
He continued, lashing out at Olens, the state’s attorney general.
“If a prosecutor was given the option to make a decision, this case never would’ve been brought,” Hodges, a former prosecutor, said. “This is being fueled by somebody that wants to run for governor and didn’t have the adequate experience to know that this wasn’t a crime.”
The defense asserted all week that the charges brought against Balfour were politically motivated.
McLaughlin and co-counsel Greg Lohmeier declined comment. Olens issued a statement reiterating his belief that Balfour was in the wrong.
“I am very disappointed in the result of this case,” Olens said, in part. “The GBI investigation revealed that Senator Balfour requested and received reimbursements for expenses he did not actually incur: miles he did not drive, days he did not work, hotels other people paid for. Those requests were too numerous and systematic to be simply isolated mistakes.”
Balfour, who had been suspended from the state senate, was reinstated immediately following the court’s decision. Holding a number of leadership positions, including chairman of the rules committee, he has served District 9 since 1993.
The defense’s case included testimony from 17 character witnesses, a list including former governors Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue and a half dozen current and former state senators.
Done with her enlightening spiel for the media, Hamilton, the jury foreperson, shared an embrace with Balfour before she left the steps of the Fulton County courthouse Thursday. She had some words of encouragement for the man just cleared of all wrongdoing.
“We all make mistakes, Senator,” she said.