Chattooga County: Vines trial defense hits investgators

Chattooga County: Vines trial defense hits investgators

April 1st, 2009 by Todd South in Georgia

SUMMERVILLE, Ga. - Defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook spent most of Tuesday afternoon attacking investigators' reports that led to charges against his client, suspended Chattooga County State Court Judge Carlton Vines.

Judge Vines is charged with unlawful possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and making false statements in connection with a 2006 election for the State Court bench.

"Look at your file, look at anything you want to and be accurate," Mr. Cook told Steve McBrayer, an investigator with the Secretary of State's office.

He was the first investigator looking into complaints about the election and interviewed witnesses in January 2007.

His findings were turned over to the inspector general's office by Secretary of State Karen Handel, and the inspector general asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to assist.

The defendant was losing that election, with 1,943 votes to 2,119 votes for Sam Finster, but when absentee ballots were counted he won by 125 votes.

Mr. Cook analyzed the words in a handwritten statement by Judge Vine's former secretary Dorothy Gilbreath. He focused on whether the statement said envelopes containing absentee ballots were sealed when Ms. Gilbreath received them or if she sealed the envelopes before mailing them.

The renowned attorney had argued Monday he was building a case to show bias from the start against Judge Vines - by the investigators, by the secretary of state and the GBI.

Mr. Cook described "an invasion of Chattooga County" by the GBI and Secretary of State investigators who worked on the case following the complaint.

The defense has pressed that witnesses said envelopes were sealed and they did not know possessing, mailing or delivering the ballots was illegal.

Absentee ballots must be mailed by the voter or a relative who is living with the voter if they are disabled or illiterate, according to testimony from Ann Hicks, assistant director of elections for the secretary of state's office.

Several prosecution witnesses who handled the envelopes were granted immunity to testify in the case.

GBI Special Agent Dan Sims said he created a questionnaire to help collect information while interviewing the large number of witnesses, and said witnesses were under no obligation to provide personal information.

Prosecutors Joseph Burford and Gary Bergman traced a stream of absentee ballots that were picked up and either mailed to the Chattooga County Courthouse or dropped off at Judge Vines' office.

Through witness testimony Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Burford built a list of more than 20 voters whose ballots were handled that way.

Court officials said the trial will last another day or two.


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