Taxpayers stuck with Sen. Balfour’s legal fees

Georgia taxpayers will have to pay the more than $156,000 in legal fees that state Sen. Don Balfour incurred in defending himself against the state’s charges that he tried to falsify his expense reports.

A Fulton County jury acquitted Balfour of all 18 counts against him after a trial in December. On Monday, a Fulton County judge found Balfour’s legal fees of $156,787.60 to be reasonable, and now the attorney general’s office will have to pay them. It was a final blow to the state’s ill-starred case, which garnered intense public attention but fell apart at trial.

Under the law, state officials acquitted of a crime may seek to recover attorney fees. Normally, the attorney general is responsible for reviewing and approving such fees.

“Attorney General Sam Olens has requested this court resolve the issue of attorney fees, due to his conflict of interest as the case prosecutor,” Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk wrote in his six-sentence order. Newkirk said he had reviewed the fees and found them to be “reasonable and appropriate.”

Balfour’s attorney, Ken Hodges, said he was pleased by the judge’s decision and, once again, condemned Balfour’s prosecution.

“The taxpayers were the true victims in all this,” said Hodges, who ran against Olens for attorney general in 2010. “I hope it’s a lesson the attorney general has learned — I don’t know whether he has or hasn’t. … I suspect he wanted this to pave his way to the Governor’s Mansion four years from now.”

Balfour’s defense in the three-day trial was that any mistakes on his state expense account were inadvertent. Hodges pointed out that Balfour often neglected to file for expenses to which he was entitled.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Olens’ office said it will pay up.

“Attorney General Olens requested that Judge Newkirk review the bill and is grateful to him for his assistance in this process,” the statement said. “He will approve the amount that Judge Newkirk found reasonable.”

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