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20 October 2012

The Jill Chambers Defense Got Victor Hill Off on Five Felony Charges

Friday evening, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Rhonda Cook informed the public that Clayton County Superior Court Judge Albert Collier dismissed five charges against the Democrats' nominee for Sheriff of Clayton County, Victor Hill ( ).

The five charges against Victor Hill dismissed were the allegations that Hill used his campaign funds for personal use.

"Late Thursday, Collier dismissed two racketeering counts and three theft-by-taking charges because, he wrote, it was unclear who actually “owned” the campaign money. The theft-by-taking charges were the basis for the two racketeering counts."

This ruling from Judge Collier came after the legal defense team of Victor Hill argued there is no crime of using campaign funds for personal use.

"He is essentially taking from himself and therefore cannot be guilty of a crime," Hill attorney Steven Frey argued. "The campaign belonged to Victor Keith Hill. He can’t steal from himself."

I'm calling this the "Jill Chambers Defense," because the legal defense employed by Victor Hill's attorneys finds its roots in a 2011 opinion from U.S. Bankruptcy Judge C. Ray Mullins involving former state Representative Jill Chambers.

Judge Mullins wrote, in his opinion, that, "Georgia campaign finance law restricts use; it does not determine ownership."

In the Jill Chambers bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Mullins determined that Chambers "owned" her campaign cash.

Mullins trumped state law [O.C.G.A § 21-5-33(c)] when he ruled that campaign funds were the personal assets of the candidate and could be seized by creditors to satisfy debts in bankruptcy proceedings.

This ruling, by Judge Mullins, set a precedent that was effectively used by Victor Hill and his attorneys to get some of the charges dropped.

If campaign funds are the personal assets of the candidate; if campaign funds are "owned" by the candidate, then Victor Hill cannot possibly be guilty of illegal use of campaign contributions, because he was spending his own money.

Two judges, a state-level judge and a federal-level judge, have now turned Georgia campaign finance law on its head.

The federal judge ruled that campaign funds are "owned" by the candidate and are to be considered personal assets of the candidate. The state judge ruled that there is no crime in using campaign funds for personal use because the candidate "owns" those funds and cannot steal from himself.

O.C.G.A § 21-5-33(c) means nothing now. But the epilogue to this story is that Victor Hill may owe money to Uncle Sam.

Internal Revenue Service Publication 17 says, "[Campaign contributions] are not income to a candidate unless they are diverted to his or her personal use."

Two judges have now set a legal precedent that says campaign funds are owned by the candidate and are personal assets of the candidate; and that the candidate can use the funds they own for personal use. Campaign contributions are now income. How many candidates and elected officials now owe back taxes for unreported income?