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Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 2:11pm

Trial Of State Senator Heads Into Day Three

The state rested its case Tuesday in the trial of state Senator Don Balfour, after aiming to show the Snellville Republican cheated taxpayers. The long-serving senator is charged with seeking reimbursements on days when he wasn’t on state duty.

He’s also accused, in one instance, of double-billing the state and his employer for an expense.

And the state strove to show it could not have been a coincidence.

Senior assistant attorney general David McLaughlin zeroed in on the expense, which took place in April of 2009. That’s when it’s alleged Balfour received reimbursements for a trip to Washington from both the state and his employer.

Robyn Underwood, the state legislature’s fiscal officer, told McLaughlin she didn’t know Balfour had also submitted the same expense to the Waffle House, his employer.

“Could you imagine a scenario in your job as the fiscal officer where a member of the General Assembly could get reimbursed for actual expenses from the state and get reimbursed for actual expenses from another entity and you approving it?” he asked her while she was on the witness stand.

“No,” Underwood replied.

And the state extracted from Underwood that Balfour frequently ranked at the top for number of non-legislative days he sought pay for. In 2011, he requested per diem for 126 days, the most of any lawmaker. As the chair of the Senate Rules committee, which decides what bills make it to the floor for a vote, he had unlimited per diem days.

But Balfour’s attorney, William Hill, poked holes in the state’s argument by pointing out errors in the indictment.

They also made much of the fact that the expenses in question add up to very little. Hill interrogated Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Wesley Horne about the indictment.

“Did you advise the attorneys in the attorney general’s office that count two of this indictment against Mr. Balfour was for a total of $32.32?” Hill asked.

“We had extensive discussions about this case, not so much about what to charge but about whether what Mr. Balfour did was wrong,” Horne said.

“That’s not my question,” Hill replied tartly.

The defense also pointed out that other legislators admitted to errors on expense reports after Balfour’s case made news but none of them have been tried. And given the amount of money involved – a total of about $2,000, Hill and partner Ken Hodges questioned whether it was a wise use of taxpayer money.

Balfour’s attorneys called a string of character witnesses, including former Governor Roy Barnes.

Barnes, a Democrat, met Balfour when both were state legislators. And later in 2001 when Barnes became Governor, lawmakers, including Balfour, voted to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag because it was considered racially-insensitive.

“He came to see me and said ‘You and I have had some differences’,” Barnes said from the witness stand. “And I said, ‘We have.’ And he said, ‘But this is the right thing to do and I’m going to stick with you,” and he did. And it was a tough decision, for him, particularly with his caucus.”

The case is expected to wrap up Wednesday. If convicted, Balfour faces fines of up to $1,000 and as many as 10 years in jail. He would also lose his Senate seat.

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