Gov. Nathan Deal has accepted the recommendation of a three-member panel that indicted State Sen. Don Balfour (R-Balfour) be suspended from office.
The Snellville Republican was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in September on 18 counts of filing false expense claims and theft.
“Anytime this occurs to an elected official I think that in and of itself is a sad day,” says Deal.
The panel including Senate Majority Leader Ronnie Chance (R-Tyrone), House Majority Leader Larry O’Neal (R-Bonaire), and retired Chief Justice Georgia Carley heard arguments from Balfour attorney Ken Hodges.
He maintains the lawmaker had no intention of taking anything for which he wasn’t entitled and simply made inadvertent mistakes. He also says the indictment will not hinder Balfour’s ability to represent his district.
“He’s been doing his job under the investigation for more a year-and-a-half and doing his job for more than a month-and-a-half under the indictment and it hasn’t impeded his job one bit,” Hodges tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
Following the hearing Balfour spoke for the first time since he was indicted.
“We have a constitution that says we’re innocent until proven guilty and I hope that, just like there’s a First Amendment freedom of the press, there’s a right for me to be considered innocent until proven guilty,” he says.
Hodges says Balfour’s suspension will only be in place through the end of the year and he’ll likely be back at the State Capitol on the first day of the legislative session in January.
“The Constitution provides that he’ll come back into office if he is not tried within the first term of the indictment or the second term, and we’re already in the second term and the second term ends before the General Assembly begins,” he says.
Meantime, the Senate Republican Caucus has decided to suspend Balfour from its rolls effective immediately. He has also been stripped of his committee chairmanships.