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AG's Office Takes Heat Following Balfour Acquittal

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State Sen. Don Balfour (facing camera) hugs lawyer Kenneth Hodges after his acquittal. Co-counsel William Hill is in foreground.
State Sen. Don Balfour (facing camera) hugs lawyer Kenneth Hodges after his acquittal. Co-counsel William Hill is in foreground.

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens' office is feeling the heat after failing to secure a conviction on even one of the 18 felony charges it brought against state Sen. Don Balfour this week in Fulton County Superior Court.

"Sloppy. [The prosecution] was just sloppy," said one of the jurors, who refused to give his name. "The dates were wrong. The indictment was messed up."

The jury deliberated less than three hours over two days before acquitting Balfour, R-Snellville, on all charges.

Balfour, a Waffle House executive who holds a degree in accounting and once chaired the powerful Senate Rules Committee, faced theft and false statement charges stemming from his reimbursement claims from 2007 to 2011. The attorney general's office had accused him of filing for mileage and per diem expenses on days in which he wasn't in Georgia.

Balfour admitted mistakes, citing his own carelessness and lack of attention to detail, but denied purposeful wrongdoing. The Senate Ethics Committee fined Balfour $5,000 and ordered him to pay $366.96 in restitution in 2012 for violating Senate rules but cleared him of malfeasance.

Vicki Hamilton, the jury forewoman, made it clear that the panel felt that Balfour's errors and the sums involved did not amount to "willful and intentional" lawbreaking.

"When you started looking at the dollar amount, you started thinking, 'Are we really here about this?'" said Hamilton.

"There were mistakes on both sides," she said. "We all make mistakes."

But the biggest flames against the Law Department were thrown by Olens' former political rival, Rafuse, Hill & Hodges partner Kenneth Hodges III, who led Balfour's defense team.

Hodges, who ran as a Democrat for attorney general and lost to Olens, a Republican, in the 2010 race, called the prosecution a "tremendous waste of the taxpayers' money."

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