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George Anderson’s last hurrah: No charge for Deal’s legal fees
By JIM WALLS
Nov. 16, 2012 — George Anderson won his fight today over liability for Gov. Nathan Deal’s legal fees. But he says he’s finished nonetheless after a quarter-century of haranguing politicians across Georgia for perceived ethical lapses.
“I can’t handle the stress anymore,” he said. “It affects my body too much.”
The state ethics commission today warned Anderson about the language he used in three complaints about Deal’s handling of his 2010 campaign finances. But, on a 3-1 vote, the commission rejected Deal’s contention that portions of the complaints were frivolous and therefore merited payment of legal expenses.
The governor’s attorneys said defending unsubstantiated portions of Anderson’s charges had cost more than $10,000 in legal fees. But all they wanted, they said, was an apology and payment of $337.50 for a half-hour of lead attorney Randy Evans’ time.
“It’s never been about the money,” Evans said.
They got the apology but not the money. “My language was strong and I sincerely, sincerely apologize,” Anderson told Evans.
Today’s hearing was the first test of a 2010 law that allows the subjects of complaints to collect legal fees if the commission deems the charges to be “frivolous” — a term that the law does not define. Advocacy groups have warned that citizens could be intimidated against filing ethics complaints if they feared a financial penalty.
“It could scare the life out of folks who are thinking that they would receive this same result if they brought forth a legitimate complaint,” William Perry, director of Common Cause Georgia, told the commission.
Two people have already contacted Common Cause seeking help should they be asked to pay legal fees, Perry said.
Anderson lodged six complaints over Deal’s reporting of his campaign and personal finances during his 2010 race for governor. Only three were filed after the 2010 law took effect in January 2011.
The complaints covered a wide range of alleged violations, ranging from the omission of more than $2 million in personal debt to accepting excess campaign contributions to misuse of campaign funds. Deal wound up paying a $3,350 fine — renamed an “administrative fee” in last-minute negotiations — after admitting technical violations regarding some of the charges.
But Evans labeled other accusations as “libelous, frivolous … and over the line” and demanded that Anderson be held accountable for them. Specifically, Evans said, Anderson should pay for falsely alleging that:
- Deal’s campaign overpaid his daughter-in-law for fund-raising and suggesting that she kicked some of the money back to the campaign,
- Overpaid Evans’ law firm, McKenna Long Aldridge LLP, again in exchange for a possible kickback, and that
- Deal reappointed former Chairman Patrick Millsaps so he would derail the commission’s investigation of the governor.
Supporters defended Anderson, who’s filed hundreds of ethics complaints over the years, and warned the commission against sending the wrong message.
“He’s a quirky guy. He’s not your average person,” said Bill Bozarth, former director of Common Cause Georgia.
“I’m sort of at a loss,” he added, “as to why the governor would want to go the extra mile to leave the impression that he’s willing to come down hard on the person who filed a complaint against him.”
Evans held that Anderson should pay because “The truth of the matter is that even quirky people have to live by the rules,” he said.
Anderson, while expressing relief after the decision, still left the meeting unsatisfied. Chairman Kevin Abernethy, showing increasing irritation, cut Anderson off several times as he addressed the commission, finally ordering Anderson to stop talking and adjourning the meeting as he tried to make a final comment.
Still, Georgia’s longtime ethics gadfly got the last word as Abernethy packed up his things and prepared to leave. Visibly angry, Anderson hobbled toward his seat, paused, pointed a finger at Abernethy and issued a final rejoinder:
Watch the full video of Friday’s hearing here, courtesy of Nydia Tisdale of AboutForsyth.com.