ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

SUMMERVILLE - Suspended Chattooga County State Court Judge Carlton Vines was on trial Monday, but the judge repeatedly reminded the defense to keep the trial focused on charges against Judge Vines.

"We're going to try Mr. Vines for what he's charged," Cherokee County Circuit Court Judge G. Carey Nelson said. "We are not going to try anybody else."

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.

Defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook peppered witnesses with questions about how and where investigators talked with them, prompting warnings from Judge Nelson to stay focused on the charges against Judge Vines and not the investigators.

Mr. Cook argued that he was building a case that showed bias from the start against Judge Vines in the investigation by the secretary of state and Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Neither Mr. Cook nor lead prosecuting attorney Joseph Burford, with the Prosecuting Attorney's Council of Georgia, would comment on the case outside of the trial.

In opening statements Monday afternoon, prosecutor Gary Bergman argued that the case is about maintaining the integrity of elections and said the prosecution would prove that Judge Vines violated election laws while campaigning for the judgeship.

In his opening statement, Mr. Cook painted a picture of investigators with the secretary of state's office and the GBI "invading Chattooga County" and "interviewing and interrogating" more than 100 witnesses with Judge Vines as their only target.

"This is about honesty, this is about fairness, this is about what's right, what's wrong," Mr. Cook told the jury.

Two of the prosecution's witnesses - Anthony Sparks and Steve Chappelear - said that they had taken sealed absentee ballots from friends or family and either mailed or dropped the ballots off to Judge Vines' office.

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 by Ann Hicks, assistant director of elections for the secretary of state's office.

Mr. Cook argued that the oath on the absentee voters envelope did not say that the ballot had to be mailed personally by the voter.

The false statements charge against Judge Vines is related to the filing of his notice of candidacy in the 2006 race, according to the indictment handed down in January. The defendant was losing that election by more than 150 votes to Sam Finster, but when absentee ballots were counted, he won by 125 votes.

Judge Nelson granted Mr. Cook's motion to limit discussion of certain topics in the case, including Judge Vines' November 2007 DUI, and his subsequent suspension by the Judicial Qualifications Committee. He also outlawed any discussion of potential charges against eight witnesses who may have violated election laws.

Gov. Sonny Perdue swore in Mr. Finster in February as the interim Chattooga County State Court judge until Judge Vines' charges are adjudicated.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT