Clayton County Judge Albert Collier has denied a prosecutors' request for a gag order in the pending racketeering case against former Sheriff Victor Hill, who is running for the job he lost four years ago.
The special prosecutor in this case -- Walton and Newton Counties District Attorney Layla Zon -- had asked Collier to limit the comments of Hill, sitting Sheriff Kem Kimbrough and three other witnesses because she feared media coverage could hurt the yet-to-be scheduled trial on 37 felony charges of racketeering, theft by taking, giving a false statement, interfering with a witness and violating oath of office.
Hill's lawyer argued in a hearing last week that a gag order would only hurt Hill's efforts to run for the office he lost in 2008 to Kimbrough and would help "politically-motivated" efforts against him. Musa Ghanayem said Hill should be allowed to respond to charges made during the campaign, noting that Kimbrough had said in a television interview that the indictment returned last month would be a key part of his effort to win re-election.
Collier said in an order signed Friday he did not see how Hill's right to a fair trial could be hurt. Collier wrote that prosecutors had not offered "clear and convincing evidence that pretrial publicity in this case has had a prejudicial effect on [Hill's] ability to receive a fair trial without the imposition of a restrictive ‘gag' order."
In the hearing last week, Zon argued that the state is also entitled to a fair trial. But Ghanayem said there is no such guarantee in the U.S. Constitution; he said the Constitution only assures a defendant the right to a fair trail.
According to the indictment, Hill used Sheriff's Office cars and credit cards to take out-of-state vacations and that he took an employee with him on some of those trips but had her absences counted as either paid sick leave or paid administrative leave. The indictment said other employees were required to staff campaign functions and to work on her personal biography during the hours they were supposed to be working for the Sheriff's Office. Hill also is accused of transferring money from his 2008 re-election campaign account to businesses he owned.
Hill had denied all those charges, claiming the indictment was politically-motivated and was pursued only after he announced he would be a candidate this year.
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