Speaker’s appointment assures quorum for Oxendine ethics case
House Speaker David Ralston today filled a 5-month-old vacancy on the State Ethics Commission, just in time for a hearing on charges against Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.
The speaker’s choice is Brunswick attorney Hillary S. Stringfellow. “Hillary will bring a fresh, new perspective to a commission tasked with ensuring accountability and transparency in government,” Ralston said in a prepared statement. “She is a reliable, tough independent thinker of unquestioned integrity who will fulfill her duties with the highest standards in this service to our state.”
Stringfellow’s first meeting could be a big one, as the commission addresses charges that a pair of affiliated Rome insurance companies donated $120,000 illegally to Oxendine’s gubernatorial campaign. The money was sent on two different dates in 2008 to 10 Birmingham, Ala.- based political action committees, which gave an equivalent amount on those same dates to Oxendine.
Georgia law prohibits regulated entities — such as utilities and insurance companies — from making political contributions to the elected officials who regulate them.
Attorneys representing the Rome businesses have challenged the impartiality of two commission members in the Oxendine case. Both are appointees Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is openly backing Karen Handel, his former chief of staff, in the governor’s race over Oxendine.
If those two members recused themselves and the vacant seat remained unfilled, the five-member commission could not have mustered a quorum to hear complaints. A Fulton County judge is scheduled to hear arguments next week on the legal challenge to the commission’s Oxendine probe.
Stringfellow replaces Robert Proctor, who resigned in early February before ever attending a commission meeting as a member. Proctor, who said he resigned for health reasons, had drawn critics’ fire for failing to pay an old ethics fine.
Here’s a bio of the commission’s newest member, courtesy of Ralston’s office:
Hillary S. Stringfellow, St. Simons Island– Stringfellow practices law with the Brunswick firm of Gilbert, Harrell, Sumerford & Martin, P.C. where she specializes in trust and estates planning. She currently serves on the Judicial Nominating Commission. Stringfellow is a member of the Southeast Georgia Boys and Girls Club Board of Directors, the American Cancer Society Victory Board and the Georgia FFA Foundation Sponsors Board. She served as a law clerk under Judge Duross Fitzpatrick, United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Stringfellow received both her Bachelor’s and Juris Doctorate degrees from the University of Georgia. She is married to Horace “Bud” Stringfellow.