The Georgia Citizen

Keeping Georgians Informed.

Griswell Country Becomes Hill Country! The People of Clayton County Have Spoken. They Like Victor Hill. Not Guilty on all Counts. Victor Hill Becomes Undisputedly the Most Powerful Politician in Clayco! The Muhammad Ali in the Political Ring!

Griswell Country Becomes Hill Country!  The People of Clayton County Have Spoken.  They Like Victor Hill.  Not Guilty on all Counts.  Victor Hill Becomes Undisputedly the Most Powerful Politician in Clayco!  The Muhammad Ali in the Political Ring!

By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD

     Well, when the Clayton County jury on August 15, 2013, brought back a unanimous verdict for Sheriff Victor Hill, this marked the official end of the J. Charley Griswell Era of Clayton domination and ushered in the Age of Victor Hill.  Actually, the two Clayco Epochs have overlapped each other for a few years.  This demarcation is not necessarily symbolic of two popular men in Clayton County who opposed each other.  No, it simply marks two major periods wherein the personalities and political charisma of each have and will dominate Clayton County for years to come.  Unbeknown to many people is the fact that Charley Griswell probably had more influence in Victor Hill’s comeback than anyone besides the candidate himself.  Griswell, being the master politician in Clayton County for four decades, certainly recognized the talent and skills of another smooth vote-getter like Victor Hill.  Over the last few years, Hill and Griswell grew fond of each other and consulted more than the public knew.  Charley Griswell was hoping perhaps more than any person in Clayco besides Hill himself that Hill would recapture the Sheriff’s badge.

Victor and Defense Team

Victor Hill emotionally celebrates his victory in the courtroom.  Attorney Steve Frey’s back is to the camera.  Photo by the AJC.

When a young Charley Griswell decided to run for a seat on the Clayton County Commission in 1972, many of the “wise” political people (viz, the incumbent political folk) told Griswell that he could not win.  But, Charley Griswell, like Victor Hill, was a man of the People.  He won.  Four years later, Griz decided that he would run for the fulltime position of Clayton County Commission Chairman.  Again, the same powerful people told him that though he had secured a seat on the commission, he would never be able to win the Chairman’s race.  Charley didn’t listen.  Griswell had built up quite a lot of goodwill with the People of Clayton County through the years, having led the Forest Park High football team to the State Championship in 1956.  The star half-back was awarded a football scholarship to the University of Georgia.   Griz knew how to deal with people.  He hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He was raised off Jonesboro Road in South Fulton, before finally moving to Forest Park.  He lived with his aunt and uncle.  He worked hard, washing many cars for the people of Clayton County before securing a job at the Ford Motor Company in Hapeville.  In another article, perhaps I will describe the very humorous story about how he lost that job and then went into an industry that he knew nothing about but became an expert in, the housing industry.

Victor and well wishers

Sheriff Hill greeting his many supporters in the courtroom.  School board member Jessie Goree is to Sheriff Hill’s left. Photo by the AJC.

Griswell did indeed win the Chairman’s race in 1976, 1980, and 1984.  The Republicans were always trying to bring him down and making false accusations against him.  He was taken once or twice before a Federal Grand Jury but was never indicted.  He tells the story about admitting to the Grand Jury that he tried to help his friends when he was on the Commission.  He apparently told the Grand Jury that he thought that was what friends did, viz., help each other.  One elderly lady apparently spoke up and defended Mr. Griswell for trying to help his friends.  I am sure that the help that Griswell afforded to his friends is the same kind of help that is provided all over the county, including Washingon, D. C., by politicians for friends whom they know.  Griswell decided to take a ten year hiatus from politics when his term ended in January of 1989.

In 1998, Charley Griswell decided to jump back into the political fray in Clayton County.  He took on the two-term incumbent commissioner, Terry Starr, son of the long-time state senator, Terrell Starr.  Griswell whipped Starr fairly convincingly, campaigning in the county in short pants and toting a spit cup.  He would go knock on a voter’s door and leave the house with vine-ripe tomatoes from the back yard.  True story.  Griswell just had a way with voters.  He was not afraid to touch them and hug them and exchange stories and laugh with them.  He served two more terms on the Commission and finally gave up elected office after having never been defeated in Clayton County.

Now this brings us back to Victor Hill.  He, like Griswell, is not perfect and has feet made of clay, but he has that midas touch, and the voters like him.  Who else could have withstood an onslaught from the media after having just been served and battered by an obviously politically-inspired indictment of 37 counts?  The District Attorney apparently didn’t consider filing this indictment against Victor Hill until he announced in 2010 that he intended to run again for Sheriff of Clayton County.  According to testimony brought out in Court, 11 fulltime (and other part time) personnel were assigned to investigate private citizen Hill, even going through his garbage.  Over $400,000.00 taxpayers’ dollars was spent on this political investigation.  Nearly an entire year was spent on investigating this former sheriff.  The jury didn’t believe the narrative that was developed by the Clayton County’s D. A.’s office.  Judge Albert Collier had already dismissed ten of the counts before the trial even began.  The foreman of the jury stated on television that the jury believed that the indictment was politically motivated, that the State hadn’t proven its case, and that the members of the jury never really understood the State’s case.  It was as if the Clayton County D. A.’s office just wanted to throw everything at Hill, hoping that something would stick and that he therefore would be denied POST Certification and would therefore be barred from holding office.

JT and Steve Frye

Dr. John Trotter (L) congratulates Hill attorney Steve Frey (R) after the verdict shut-out.

The jury did not buy this snake oil indictment handed down by the Grand Jury which was presented by the D. A.’s office.  We heard months ago that it was almost a 55%-50% vote on the Grand Jury about whether to go forward with an indictment, and keep in mind that you can almost indict a ham sandwich in the grand jury process.  The defendant is not there to refute charges.  He and his attorneys are not allowed to put on their defense nor allowed to cross examine witnesses.   This should have sent a strong message to the D. A.’s office about the weakness of its case.  In a criminal case, the State has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The State made a big deal about Victor Hill going on a few short vacations after he was defeated by Kem Kimbrough in the 2008 Democratic Primary.  But, Victor Hill was still the Sheriff of Clayton County and still a Constitutional Office of Georgia.  It was brought out in testimony that Sheriff Hill worked “24/7.”  He could be seen walking the halls of the county jail at two or three in the morning and on the weekends.  He did not have a “9 to 5” job.  He had no boss but the People.  He himself could decide when to take a vacation, just like another Constitutional Office, President Barack Obama, recently decided to take his family on a two to three week vacation to The Hamptons.  Neither Sheriff Hill nor President Obama had to ask permission from anyone to take the vacation.  President Obama is always on duty, and he and his family took Air Force One.  The same is true for Sheriff Victor Hill.  He took a county vehicle so that he could return to Clayton County on a moment’s notice.  Can you imagine that this was one of the main parts of the State’s case?  Good grief.

Tracey Lawson-Graham

Some are speculating that Clayton District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson will not run for a third term.  Photo by Clayton News/Daily.

 

Tracy Graham Lawson’s decision to go after Victor Hill was a bad decision, for her career and the political careers of those close to her.  She has now made Sheriff Victor Hill larger than life.  Unless Victor Hill just does some remarkably stupid things (which we don’t think that he will do), he will be the Sheriff of Clayton County as long as he wants to be.   He may later decide to run for U. S. Congress or for some other office.  But, whatever he decides, he can certainly broker much influence in any future political race in Clayton County for the foreseeable future.  Everyone likes a good comeback story or a story about fighting the system and prevailing.  That’s why we liken him to Muhammad Ali who is still enormously popular with the public in general and adored by African Americans.  Welcome to Hill Country.  The Age of Victor Hill has arrived.

Note:  Victor Hill wisely selected Steve Frey to be his lead counsel. He was assisted by Drew Findley of Atlanta in the argumentation before the jury.  These two fine attorneys were able to pick apart the State’s case which, like many cases brought forth from the State, looks imposing from an initial viewing but when held up to a withering cross examination tends to crumble.  © The Georgia Citizen, 2013.

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