Trolinger’s defense should be paid for by the county

Published 6:51 pm Friday, October 17, 2014

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners was presented with a very straightforward request at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.

Jami L. Lewis, an attorney for Bainbridge resident Rachel Trolinger, asked the board to cover a $5,000 invoice for legal counsel with her client. Trolinger was a Decatur County Sheriff’s Office employee during the time she was accused of her crime: forgery in the first degree.

Normally, the answer to Lewis’ request would be an automatic “no.”

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It should always be answered with an automatic “no.”

But the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on Aug. 26 declaring Decatur County responsible, “in its discretion,” to cover the legal fees of all Decatur County employees accused of civil, criminal or quasi-criminal actions arising from the performance of their job’s duties.

The original purpose of the resolution was to give Decatur County a reason to pay for legal counsel for three indicted DCSO employees, all of who were working for Decatur County when they allegedly beat a pedestrian at BikeFest 2012 and wrote false reports to cover the incident.

Trolinger was under the supervision of DCSO captain Elizabeth Croley (one of the indicted DCSO employees), performing the duties of her job when she allegedly committed the crime. The GBI’s warrant for her arrest even states the DCSO’s address as the location of Trolinger’s forgery.

Lewis’s request suddenly seems appropriate.

“I would personally recommend we do not pay this $5,000,” Decatur County Commission Chairman Frank Loeffler said Tuesday. “I think this is a long way from that resolution we passed.”

It’s not a long way at all. It’s right on target. We never expected to see another case rise so quickly since the resolution was passed, and the board obviously didn’t either. But there’s no excuse not to pay for Trolinger’s legal counsel. Everything in the board’s resolution fits her situation.

Decatur County Attorney Brown Moseley noted Tuesday the resolution said “in (the board’s) discretion,” a phrase borrowed from the Official Code of Georgia, section 45-9-21, stating a county, municipality or other public body has the power to pay for an employee’s legal counsel. This essentially means the board can pick and choose which cases it wants to pay for legal expenses.

Moseley interpreted this as an obligation to pay for the indicted DCSO employees’ legal fees. Now he’s interpreting the line to mean Decatur County can choose not to.

We wrote on July 25 the phrase “in their discretion” does not equate to “under obligation.” But with this resolution, the precedent has been set.

As of now, both Trolinger and the indicted DCSO employees are innocent until proven guilty. If you’re going to create a resolution like this, personal feelings and rumor have to be side boarded.

The rule has to apply to everyone. You can’t pick and choose over them like you would a crate of apples, not when the cases are this similar.

We have made it no secret this defense resolution is a slippery slope for the board. Now that a case unintended for the resolution has arisen, the board is going to have to ride the wave they created.

We urge the board to do the right thing—the ethical thing—and pay for Trolinger’s defense.