OPINION: Convicted liar wants to outrun past in run for state House

Politics has long been the land of dirty tricks. Employing sneakery to make opponents look shallow, hypocritical or even evil is almost a given in many quarters.

Robert Trim, a longtime Republican operative now running for a state House seat in Cobb County, knows this, although he’s running a fairly vanilla campaign focusing on schools, the economy and law enforcement. The fact that he sounds like a moderate, old-timey Republican probably has to do with the newly created district leaning Democratic, so he can’t risk coming off as too fervent.

But Trim sure knows how to play dirty. In fact, his tactics have verged into noxious, mean-spirited and even illegal. In fact, because of one “trick” in 2013, Candidate Trim is now a certified — and convicted — prevaricator.

Now, I’m sure some of you are saying, “Heck, he’s a wannabe politician. That’s part of the game.”

Sure, many pols engage in half-truth, obfuscation and outright deceit. But Robert Trim went far beyond the pale and lied so maliciously that he could have sent an innocent man to prison. And possibly for a long stretch.

Let’s fire up our wayback machine and go to 2013, when Cherokee County schools were engaged in some nasty political unpleasantry. Trim was an advisor to Kelly Marlow, a Tea party activist who had been elected to the Cherokee County school board and was waging a jihad against the district over issues like charter schools and the Common Core curriculum.

In June 2013, Marlow asked a school accreditation agency to investigate the system. She wrote a press release saying district Superintendent Frank Petruzielo had engaged in “obstruction, obfuscations and insubordination.”

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

Interestingly, Marlow’s complaint of the superintendent’s “obfuscations” came just days after a turbulent school board meeting. That night, after the June 13 meeting, a woman named Barbara Knowles called 911. When Canton police arrived, Knowles, Marlow, and Trim told them that Supt. Petruzielo nearly ran them over in his BMW as they crossed a street near a tavern.

Their comments to police got very specific and detailed, painting the Super as a madman. Trim told police Petruzielo “was clearly angry and frustrated” with Marlow.Later, according to court records, Trim emailed a statement to police saying the three were crossing a street when a BMW “began to accelerate and then switched from the right lane to the left lane, where we were approximately halfway across.” Trim said Knowles dodged the speeding vehicle and he had to push “Marlow out of the lane to avoid being hit by the car.”

Unfortunately — for the fibbers — there was video.

A day after Trim emailed his statement, police got surveillance video from outside the Painted Pig Tavern. It showed Knowles “casually” walk across the street without incident, followed by Trim and school board member Marlow. The video did not show Trim pushing Marlow out of the way. Police said the video was “inconsistent” with the accusations.

The video also showed Petruzielo drive by — at 11.4 miles per hour.

Knowing the three were lying, a Canton detective invited them to return to the scene of crime and hang themselves.

They gave virtually the same statements and then even reenacted the events. The acting, no doubt, ascended to the level of bad dinner theater.

Police almost immediately charged them with two felony counts of making false statements. The cops were no doubt miffed. Not only did they have to waste time investigating this chicanery, but the night of the 911 call had a powerful storm that kept emergency crews busy.

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC FILE

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC FILE

The trio were convicted of felonies and sentenced to serve 60 days in confinement and almost 10 years on probation. “You were deceitful, malicious and deliberate in using one government agency to try to gain a political edge in another government agency,” Judge Ellen McElyea told them.

An appeals court later reduced the charges to misdemeanors but concluded the events transpired pretty much like the police and jury saw it.

In 2017, the judge had to resentence the three. She gave Trim and Marlow (who by then was Trim’s wife) largely the same punishment — 60 days in jail — but cut probation to 24 months because the charges were now misdemeanors.

But McElyea did not feel the crimes had somehow been diminished. The jury, she told them, “determined that you lied. Lied to police officers. You lied to investigators, you took advantage of law enforcement on an occasion specifically where there was a lot going on in this community that night.”

The judge said it reminded her of drug court when addicts relapse but deny “absolutely unassailable evidence . . . We call it going down with the lie and that’s what’s happening.”

I called Trim to talk about how he weaponized a lie, potentially to get an opponent in huge trouble.

The race is for the House District 35 seat being vacated by Ed Setzler, an Acworth Republican. Lisa Campbell, of Kennesaw, is his Democratic opponent.

“It’s over; I’ve moved on,” Trim told me. “We’re talking about the future, not the past.”

But if you want to view the future, the past is a fairly reliable roadmap.