Senator Balfour Acquitted -All Counts

December 19, 2013 12:00 pm

by Mike Hassinger · 34 comments

The Fulton County Daily Report’s Kathleen Baydala Joyner, who’s been covering the trial of State Senator Don Balfour, announced via twitter that the jury has acquitted the Senator on all counts. The AJC coverage has been also been excellent and you can read it here if you haven’t been following.

A snap analysis: The state didn’t make a strong case, and the defense was able to portray the Senator as disorganized and scatterbrained when it came to claiming reimbursements. He was the Raggedy Andy of expense report filing.

A look to the future: Senate leadership is in a kind of a pickle. Balfour was booted out of the caucus -but not by a vote of all Senators. How and when will Balfour be brought back to the fold, if at all? There will be some hard conversations taking place very soon.

What to watch: The Senator’s year-end campaign disclosure reports. In July, Sen. Balfour had more than $670,000 in his campaign account. There’s undoubtedly less now, but probably more than P. K. Martin has. Will the now-exonerated incumbent even stand for re-election?  Let us have your take in the comments.

UPDATED: Statements from Sam Olens, David Shafer, Renee Unterman and P.K. Martin below the fold. 

P.K. Martin Statement:

“Don Balfour has been found not guilty, but that doesn’t mean he should be re-elected. The trial painted a clear picture that Don has lost touch with his responsibilities as a State Senator. Don admitted to filing inaccurate mileage and expense reports to the state. He has shown a repeated lack of respect for public money from his nonchalance with expense reports. Electedofficials have a responsibility to be good stewards of tax dollars and have the ability to focus on the needs of their constituents. Don has proven that hesimply cannot be trusted to do so.”

“This entire situation is about doing what’s right, earning trust. Too many of our leaders are skating around the rules and using excuses to avoid responsibility and sacrificing the trust of the people.”

“In the State Senate, I will push to strengthen ethics laws for elected officials and push for harsher consequences for repeated accidental violations that misuse and abuse tax dollars and betray the public’s trust. More importantly, I will lead by example, do the right thing and make you proud.”

Attorney General Sam Olens:

“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.”

Senate President Pro Tempore David Shafer:

“I am sure the verdict is an enormous relief to Senator Balfour and his family.

We have adopted procedures that will prevent misuse of legislative expense accounts going forward, including regular review of expense requests by the Senate Audit Subcommittee.

We have a duty to be the best possible stewards of the state’s dollars.”

Senator Renee Unterman:

“The verdict has been reached and the people have spoken – finding Don Balfour not guilty on all counts. I am thankful to have this court case behind the Senate’s future.

“All along, I have felt distressed for Balfour’s family as well as our caucus family. It’s a relief to be able to finally move on.”

peachpundit (@peachpundit) December 19, 2013 at 11:12 am

New post: Senator Balfour Acquitted -All Counts http://t.co/kMrOHrmbR0 #gapol

Chris Huttman December 19, 2013 at 11:13 am

I am just going out on a limb and taking a wild guess here – Joe Rogers personal Senator will be readmitted to the Republican club.

Stefan December 19, 2013 at 11:21 am

two things:

1) this was a non-standard prosecution and it showed. they were disorganized from the jump. in a case that requires the jury to be detail oriented, they will resolve unanswered questions, unaddressed defense points, and poorly articulated charges in favor of the defendant every time when the case is presented like this.

2) were I Balfour, I’d never file a reimbursement request ever again. for anything. He should come back into the Senate born-again.

Chris Huttman December 19, 2013 at 11:26 am

This may be why typically voters are interested in whether a candidate for Attorney General has ever prosecuted a case before or not.

Stefan December 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm

true. the prosecutor in this case has been with the AG’s office for at least 10 years. Not sure how many trial level prosecutions he has done.

DeKalb Wonkette December 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

Senate leadership should not have been so quick to excommunicate Sen. Balfour. How do they go about reinstating him to committees etc?

mpierce December 19, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Is there a reason they should? Regardless of his criminal intent, he failed to fulfill his responsibilities as a Senator.

Napoleon December 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm

How so? Jury said he made a mistake. That is now a legal fact. Roy Barnes said lots of legislators made similar mistakes. He has already paid back the Senate. At some point trying to screw over Balfour will just look mean-spirited and petty.

mpierce December 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Are you suggesting filing accurate expense reports is not a responsibility of a Senator? Or that he didn’t file false reports?

Harry December 19, 2013 at 12:05 pm

This insider power dealer is what we don’t need more of in the state. He should just retire at the end of his term.

Napoleon December 19, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Actually, if anything, this can add to the bullet points of anyone advocating for a full time General Assembly. I know few legislators, especially those in leadership as Committee Chairs or caucus positions, who don’t find their “part-time” position requires more time than they ever imagined.

A lot of these issues would go away if all a legislator had to focus on was his/her elected position.

However, I would prefer these mistakes from time to time over the prospect of having “professional” legislators.

Dave Bearse December 21, 2013 at 2:37 am

Except that Balfour was a professional. His 2011 General Assembly service and Committee Days per diem collections exceeded more than half the business days of that year.

George Chidi December 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm

All I can say is that I’m completely gob-smacked.

griftdrift December 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I’m not. Following Chris Joyner on twitter it sounded like the state was all over the place on the case and the defense was able to turn it into “sloppy but not criminal”.

Heck, instead of saying “here’s the law, here’s how he broke it”, he argued it was the “principle”. Juries rarely go for “principle”.

Three Jack December 19, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Balfour benefits from a very poorly handled prosecution. Olens wins the 2013 Paul Howard Incompetency Award.

Michael Silver December 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I think in 2014, we are renaming it. Sam No Wins Olens Award

Romegaguy December 19, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I’m hopeful that Sam isnt overseeing the water war lawsuits like he oversaw this case

Greg S December 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Affluenza! I’m too rich, too powerful and too busy to live by the laws I helped to write.

2g Strategies (@2gstrategies) December 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

From @peachpundit Senator Balfour Acquitted -All Counts – The Fulton County Daily Report’s Kathleen Baydala Joyner… http://t.co/GLYHGYk52k

Charlie December 19, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Sorry, I don’t get to pick “I’m busy” days on slow news days. A few quick points:

1) Balfour still has to answer to his peers that he argued in court that not only he, but all of them, were above being held to the standard of trial by jury. That needs to be remembered regardless of verdict.

2) Balfour was found “not guilty”. Eric Johnson whining on twitter “Where does Balfour go to get his reputation back” should probably remember that he’s been censured by the Senate for these acts, and paid a $5,000 fine. He’s not innocent. He’s just not going to jail.

3) I didn’t have time to visit the trial, and only have seen spotty news coverage. My simple question: We’ve all know the well telegraphed defense strategy of “It was just careless errors, I didn’t mean to steal.” Balfour was made aware of these “errors” in 2010, AND the fact that he didn’t have an audit committee as he was required to do by state law (AJC interview) but did nothing until it was clear Senate leadership wasn’t going to shield him from ethics complaints. Was this explained to the jury? If not, why not?

4) Balfour has long claimed he’s not making money off of his “public service” – and gives evidence that he has refused a rather paltry legislative pension. In exchange, he’s had a 20 year career and the largest campaign warchest of any Senator. One that appears to pay for a completely separate household while he has billed the state for mileage and per diem for almost every other calendar day. He claimed his Waffle House salary had been reduced by his legislative salary, but when asked what his WaHo salary was, he claimed he couldn’t even give a range. Really? Really?

5) I believe a 2/3 vote of GOP Senators is required before he can be readmitted into the caucus. I hope his peers will consider the above before they decide that all is well, and that Balfour represents the level of minimal standards and attention to the job before they grant him membership back in.

6) The voters have the ultimate say. P.K. Martin should be everyone who finds this disgusting’s best friend.

Dave Bearse December 21, 2013 at 3:03 am

Of course he can’t give a pay range. It’s not as if people who are unconcerned about his incompetent General Assembly reimbursement reporting will care he’s similarly incompetent with his home finances. Besides, it’s a safer than having to explain Waffle House pay that could give the appearance that Waffle House is paying him for General Assembly service.

Noway December 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Well, all of this effort over roughly $2,500 in accounting “mistakes.” What a collassally criminal waste of state time and resources. Balfour needs to remember all of those who threw him under the bus and come back and figuratively “eff” every last one of them. Dimes need to be dropped by him, anonymous phone calls to any IG who will listen. Name real crooks. See if they like it.

John Konop December 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I agree…..I said this originally about the issue……many here scream about what would happen in the private sector…..if it was not a material amount relative to the expenses…..they would get called in by the boss via most times….and told to document better ie warning…..this would not see the court system…..and if it did the same defense would work more times than not…,,I have never seen a case like this ever in the private sector.

Dave Bearse December 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Of course a private sector case wouldn’t see the court system because the private sector standard of proof is even higher, precluding prosecution except in the most egregious instances.

A business person knows they’re no good with details on expense reports, yet concurrently fails their responsibility to implement an expense report oversight system too? It’s not like Balfour didn’t have the campaign money for nominal staff support either. Circumstantial yes, but so was the entire criminal case.

John, you’re excusing inept public service.

John Konop December 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I am making no excuses for anyone…..I am just saying how it works in the private sector…..and it was a waste of tax payer money…..If this was a material amount of money I would of been all over it….

Three Jack December 23, 2013 at 2:04 pm

The amount doesn’t matter, it is the intent. Clearly Balfour thumbed his nose at the rules, then prevented the normal review process from taking place. If a bank robber ‘only’ gets $2500 in a heist, he still faces criminal charges if caught because the amount was not of concern to him or the law, just the intent of enriching himself at the expenses of others (taxpayers play the ‘others’ in Balfour’s case).

Unfortunately we have an inept AG so this robber was able to get away clean and even seek permission to re-enter the bank (Balfour applied for reinstatement to the caucus).

xdog December 19, 2013 at 7:11 pm

If Balfour pulls the plug at the end of his term does he get to keep what’s left of that $670K?

Noway December 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

The only plug he’ll be puling is the “figurative” plug from his political shotgun. Revenge is a dish best served cold. I hope he goes after all of them.

Bull Moose December 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm

To some degree, doesn’t Sam Olens have some level of responsibility for the botched prosecution of this case…

benevolus December 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I’m more interested in the idea that Olens possibly sabotaged this case.

xdog December 20, 2013 at 11:16 am

Because?

benevolus December 21, 2013 at 10:38 am

I reckon he has aspirations. This is now part of his resumé.

xdog December 22, 2013 at 7:59 am

So he dumped the case to make new friends useful when he runs for governor. I don’t know. Balfour’s scalp would seem to be a pretty good campaign prop, one that lasts.

benevolus December 22, 2013 at 9:40 am

Now he gets to play it both ways- he’s the Ethics Guy, but he didn’t actually have to make any enemies.

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