Decatur County does not need to pay legal fees

Published 7:31 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

Tuesday’s county commission meeting saw the board unanimously vote to pay all legal fees for three of the indicted Decatur County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

The fourth indicted deputy, Wiley Griffin, IV, formerly employed by Grady County Sheriff’s Office, will have his legal fees paid for by his family. Griffin, IV’s father, Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin, announced these plans at the meeting Tuesday.

There is too much foggy territory for this decision to be a logical move by the board. We believe it to be a dangerous and misguided decision, regardless of whether the indicted deputies were in uniform or under the authority of the Decatur County Sheriff’s office.

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County Attorney Brown Moseley indicated that the county is “under obligation to provide legal representation” to the indicted officers.

The code section upon which Moseley relied, says “In lieu of obtaining the insurance or indemnity referred to in Code Section 45-9-20 or in addition thereto, such municipalities, counties, and other public bodies may, in their discretion… adopt policies whereby the municipality, county, and other public body will undertake to defend all or specified civil, criminal, or quasi-criminal actions brought or maintained against members of the municipality, county, or other public body, or against supervisors, administrators, employees, or other elected or appointed municipal or county officers, arising out of the performance of their duties or in any way connected therewith, whether based upon negligence, violation of contract rights, or violation of civil, constitutional, common law, or statutory rights.”

This is Code Section 45-9-21 of the Official Code of Georgia.

In our view, the phrase “in their discretion” does not equate to being “under obligation.” The county commission surely was within its legal right to allocate public money to defend alleged criminal actions by its employees, but we question whether it was the right thing to do.

The county said they have approached the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia for legal assistance. According to Moseley, the ACCG won’t support county because of the allegations in the indictment, another indication this decision to pay for legal counsel is rash and inappropriate.

There has been no discussion of a ceiling, or maximum, that the county is willing to spend on the defense of these three officers. Realistically, the costs could rise to six digits.

We also question the statement by Sheriff Wiley Griffin that should Wiley Griffin, IV, ultimately be found not guilty of these charges, the county should reimburse the family for legal fees. Why?

Using that logic, should the county expect reimbursement from these officers if they are found guilty?

At this point, we have the description of the events provided by the federal indictments and we have the description of the events provided by the Sheriff’s Office. Those two descriptions are polar opposite.

Sheriff Griffin and the Sheriff’s Office have done, and will continue to do, a great job serving Decatur County. But, these charges are very serious and will have to be answered. This episode is harming our county, at a time when we don’t need another controversy.

We just need to step back and let the judicial process take its course.