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.”