Chattooga County State Court Judge Carlton Vines, already suspended from the bench because of a DUI arrest, has been indicted on election fraud charges.
A Chattooga County grand jury on Friday handed down a three-count indictment against Mr. Vines on charges of unlawful possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and false swearing.
The Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council will handle the case rather than the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney, which is normal in cases where a judge faces charges within his own district, said prosecutor Joseph F. Burford.
“We were appointed by the attorney general’s office after the Lookout Mountain Circuit District Attorney recused their office,” Mr. Burford said.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission of Georgia already had a case on its docket regarding Mr. Vines.
The commission on Aug. 29 pressed charges that Mr. Vines violated ethical canons by actions that resulted in a November 2007 driving under the influence arrest, said Cheryl Custer, executive director of the commission. That DUI arrest was Mr. Vines’ second since 2003, Ms. Custer said.
Mr. Vines has been suspended from sitting as a judge in State Court — which hears DUI cases among other traffic and misdemeanor offenses — since shortly after his 2007 arrest.
He has continued to receive his about $900-per-week salary.
“We’re under a court order to pay him,” Chattooga County Commissioner Mike Dawson said.
Ms. Custer said the Judicial Qualifications Commission only learned Monday about the fraud indictments and her office will investigate those charges.
She said Mr. Vines could face penalties if found guilty of ethical violations that the commission investigates.
“He has 30 days to respond to the charges,” Ms. Custer said. “His case will be heard before the commission, and the commission will make recommendations to the Georgia Supreme Court.”
The indictment states that Mr. Vines illegally possessed ballots outside the polling places prior to the conclusion of the Nov. 7, 2006, election, and that he conspired with an unnamed co-conspirator to obtain the ballots, all despite his oath not to knowingly violate the state’s election code.
Mr. Vines narrowly won that election over Sam Finster, returning him to the State Court bench. The election outcome was decided by absentee ballots that were heavily in favor of Mr. Vines.
Mr. Burford said the arraignment for Mr. Vines is set for Oct. 6.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...