Charges 'abuse of power,' Miller says

Charges 'abuse of power,' Miller says

October 22nd, 2009 by Todd South in News

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Defense attorney Fred Hanzelik, left, and former state Sen. Jeff Miller, center, talk with an unidentified man in Bradley County Criminal Court on Wednesday morning during a recess in Sen. Miller's trial. Sen. Miller was charged with official misconduct and conspiracy to commit official misconduct.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis Defense attorney Fred Hanzelik,...

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Former state Sen. Jeff Miller said being wrongly accused has made the last seven months and this week's two-day trial a hard ordeal.

A jury took less than two hours Wednesday afternoon to declare Mr. Miller not guilty on a charge of official misconduct. Earlier Wednesday, a judge dismissed counts of conspiracy to commit official misconduct and conspiracy to commit aggravated perjury.

Mr. Miller called the charges against him as former Bradley County delinquent tax attorney an "abuse of power" and "the worst case that I've ever seen."

He lamented a system that "reached out and wrecked the life of a young mother who did not deserve this," referring to his secretary, April Miles, who testified against him and was given pretrial diversion on charges of conspiracy to commit official misconduct and perjury.

Mr. Miller was accused of being paid for an estimated 300 lien searches that were filed but not completed between April 2006 and February 2009, when he was the county delinquent tax attorney.

After the announcement, Mr. Miller's family and friends shouted with joy and later hugged each other.

Defense attorney Fred Hanzelik did not call any witnesses after the prosecution rested Wednesday morning. He later told the jury he didn't need to call anyone because the prosecution's case wasn't strong enough.

Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett said in closing statements that the case was about what Mr. Miller knew about the lien searches.

"The only thing for you to determine here is did Mr. Miller know that these searches weren't being done?" Mr. Hatchett said.

During testimony Wednesday, Mr. Hatchett and Mr. Hanzelik questioned Joe Byrd, the current Bradley County attorney who took over the delinquent tax program at the behest of county government.

Mr. Byrd testified that he found the original problems with the lien searches and reported them to the county district attorney's office. Separately, the Bradley County Commission voted to fire Mr. Miller retroactively for the 2004 tax year after no documentation could be found that all searches had been performed.

Closing statements from both attorneys focused almost exclusively on testimony from Ms. Miles, Mr. Miller's secretary of nearly 10 years.

Mr. Hanzelik pointed out inconsistencies and contradictions between Ms. Miles' sworn statements from months ago and her testimony during the trial.

At first, she told TBI agents that she had not informed Mr. Miller about incomplete work on the lien searches. Later, she told investigators she threw away some of the searches.

In testimony, she said Mr. Miller knew or probably knew that searches were not done. She testified that Mr. Miller told her he couldn't be charged if he didn't know about searches not performed.

When asked why she lied to investigators, she said, "Because I needed my job."

During opening statements Tuesday, Mr. Hanzelik suggested to jurors that the charges were politically motivated -- a Democratic district attorney out to get a Republican officeholder.

"People should think long and hard about who they elect," Mr. Miller said.