ATLANTA (CN) - Gov. Nathan Deal committed a gross abuse of discretion by refusing to appoint a panel to review the election of a Georgia sheriff who faces a 37-count corruption indictment, a citizen claims in court.
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill was charged last year with four RICO counts, 28 counts of theft, two counts of making a false statement, violation of oath and influencing a witness.
The indictment was filed in Clayton County Superior Court on Jan. 18, 2012, according to the court's date-stamped copy, though the recent lawsuit claims that it was filed on Feb. 29, 2012.
Gov. Deal announced on Jan. 3 this year that he would "not appoint a panel to consider the suspension of Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill."
James Buckman sued the governor on Jan. 4 in Fulton County Superior Court, seeking writ of mandamus.
Hill is accused, among other things, of using county-owned cars and credit cards for personal trips in and out of state, using an employee to ghostwrite his autobiography on county time, assigning employees to work on his re-election campaign and campaign fund raisers on county time, and taking the money for his personal use.
Deal said in his Jan. 3 statement that "'the law outlining the procedures for the suspension of public officials under indictment applies only to officials indicted while holding their elected office ... Victor Hill was indicted on Feb. 29, 2012, at which time he was a private citizen and not an elected county officer.'"
Hill was Clayton County sheriff from Jan. 1, 2005 until Dec. 31, 2008. He lost his run for re-election, but won the 2012 election.
"As a result, Sheriff Hill took office once again on or about January 1, 2012" [sic: recte 2013], the complaint states.
"Governor Deal has made clear that he refuses to execute his statutory obligations," Buckman says in his complaint.
"Governor Deal's interpretation of O.C.G.A. § 45-5-6 forges a loophole for indicted public officials that strains a plain reading of the statute and is inconsistent with the legislative intent of the Georgia State Legislature."
O.C.G.A § 45-5-6 states: "(b) Upon indictment for a felony by a grand jury of this state or by the United States, which felony indictment relates to the performance or activities of the office of any public official, the Attorney General or district attorney shall transmit a certified copy of the indictment to the Governor who shall, subject to subsection (e) of this Code section, appoint a review commission. Except as provided in this subsection, the commission shall be composed of the Attorney General and two public officials who hold the same office as the individual indicted.
"(c) Unless a longer period of time is granted by the governor, the commission shall make a written report to the governor within 14 days. If the commission determines that the indictment relates to and adversely affects the administration of the office of the indicted public official and that the rights and interests of the public are adversely affected thereby, the commission shall recommend that the public official be suspended from office. If, and only if, the commission recommends suspension, then the governor shall review the findings and recommendations of the commission and may suspend the public officer from office immediately and without further action pending the final disposition of the case or until the expiration of his term of office, whichever occurs first."
Buckman claims: "Governor Deal received a certified copy of Sheriff Hill's indictment from the Attorney General or the district attorney more than fourteen days ago. ...
"Governor Deal has publicly indicated his refusal to appoint a review commission to consider the indictment against Sheriff Hill. Governor Deal has a clear and non-discretionary duty under O.C.G.A. § 45-5-6 to appoint a review commission."
Buckman asks the court to compel Deal to "perform his mandatory and non-discretionary official duties to appoint a review commission pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 45-5-6 regarding the felony indictment pending against Victor Hill, Sheriff of Clayton County."
He asks the court to order Deal to convene a three-person review panel.
Hill's indictment, based on an investigation by a special grand jury, refers to actions that took place while he held office from 2007 and 2008.
Buckman is represented by Page Pate of Atlanta.
Clayton County, south of Atlanta in the metro area, was the scene of long-running acrimony and lawsuits that began when the county appointed its first black police chief in March 2007.
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