Balfour’s attorney seeks to quash state’s case against senator

The attorney for indicted state Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, will argue in court Friday that the state’s case is moot because only the state Legislature has the power to punish the senator.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry M. Newkirk scheduled the 9 a.m. hearing. Attorney Ken Hodges is essentially attempting to quash the indictments against Balfour by arguing that it is a violation of Georgia’s separation of powers for a member of the executive branch to prosecute a legislator.

That member of the executive branch would be Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, whose office pursued the case.

Balfour, charged with 18 counts of filing false expense claims and theft, was indicted in September on allegations that he charged the state for expenses on days he did not have those expenses.

Olens’ office declined to comment. But in court documents filed Thursday, Olens and his staff countered that his office is constitutionally empowered to pursue criminal wrongdoing. No person, including a lawmaker, is “above the law,” they wrote.

Friday’s hearing comes only about a week before main arguments in Balfour’s trial are scheduled to begin Dec. 16.

Balfour, a certified public accountant, has repeatedly said he made mistakes on his expense reports but did nothing wrong intentionally.

Gov. Nathan Deal suspended Balfour last month pending the trial after a three-member panel found him unfit for office. The same day, Balfour’s Senate colleagues kicked him out of the chamber’s Republican caucus, effective immediately.

They also stripped him of every remaining leadership position he had in the chamber. Last year, after problems with Balfour’s expense reports became public, the Senate stripped him of his position as chairman of the Rules Committee. The Senate Ethics Committee also rebuked Balfour last year, fined him $5,000 and ordered him to repay the state about $350.

If Balfour returns to the Senate when the next legislative session starts Jan. 13, he will have the standing of a freshman despite his 21 years of experience under the Gold Dome.