Legal obstacles face indicted Victor Hill if he wins sheriff's election

Opinions differ on whether indicted former Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill can serve as sheriff  if he succeeds in retaking the elected office he lost four years ago.

No he couldn't serve, said the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council, which suspended Hill's peace officer's certification soon after he was indicted on 37 felony counts in January.

Ken Vance, head of POST, said Hill's certification would remain suspended if he is elected but has not yet been tried.

"We don't know when the court case is going to be,"  Vance said. "If he is found guilty, he cannot be certified. If he wins the court case, we would restore his certification."

Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, president of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said if Hill wins, he could assume the office as long as he has not been convicted. The caveat, Berry said, is that one of the legal requirements is that Hill would have to be certified by POST within six months of taking office, the same as for any non-law enforcement person elected sheriff.

"I'm not aware of anything that would keep him from serving," Berry said. "If he's able to run, then he's able to serve until ... when or if he's convicted. He would have to be certified as a peace officer. He can be elected. He can take office. Whether he can keep it or not is based on a conviction or if he gets his certification back."

Hill is accused of using sheriff's office credit cards, cars and staff for personal gain.

Steven Frey, Hill's defense attorney in the pending racketeering case, said they will fight for certification if Hill wins the July 31 Democratic primary -- and, consequently, the office since there are no Republicans running.

"If it is anyone's intention that this case be tried by default, then we're prepared to defend it anywhere, at any time," Frey said.

Hill could not be reached for comment Thursday. The voice mail on his cellphone, which also serves as the phone for his campaign, was full.

But Hill has said many times that he intends to keep running for the office he lost in 2008 to sitting Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, who also is running.

Hill is one of eight candidates running for the office. He qualified months after a Clayton County grand jury indicted him on charges of racketeering, theft, lying and violation of oath of office.

No trial date has been set. The next date for his case is in September, when a judge will hear arguments on pending motions.

If Hill wins the election and is still under indictment on Jan. 1, the governor could name two sheriffs to join the state attorney general in reviewing the circumstances of his indictment, said Terry Norris, executive director of the sheriffs' association. If the criminal charges concern or affect the operation of the office, the panel could recommend the governor suspend him, with pay, and appoint an interim sheriff until the criminal case is resolved.

"What needs to happen is this court case needs to go," Vance said. "And if he doesn't win the election, it's all kind of moot."