Man who accused Gov. Deal won't pay attorney fees

FOX 5 I-Team investigates

Man who accused Gov. Deal won't pay attorney fees

ATLANTA -

It was called a historic ethics hearing. Governor Nathan Deal became Georgia's first public official to seek legal fees from a citizen who filed an ethics complaint against him. The Governor's action ignited a heated debate and an apology before the state ethics commission.

The request for legal fees was aimed at longtime government watchdog George Anderson, a man known for filing hundreds of often harshly-worded ethics complaints.
    
On Friday, an emotional George Anderson told the state ethics commission that his complaints against Gov. Deal, though strongly worded, had merit and he shouldn't be forced to pay legal fees.

"No citizen in this state can afford attorney's fees," Anderson said.

Deal is the first state official to use a new law that allows public officials to seek legal fees if a citizen files a frivolous ethics complaint.

The hotly debated issue drew a number of good government advocates, like William Perry of Common Cause, who said the request for legal fees would have a chilling effect on public policy.

"It could scare the life out of folks who are thinking they would receive the same result if they brought forth a legitimate complaint," Perry said.

But Governor Deal's attorney Randy Evans argued it wasn't really about the money; it was more about what he calls false, malicious, and libelous language used by Anderson.

"What we seek are just two things: an apology and one half-hour of my time. That's it. This isn't about money," said Evans.

Anderson did apologize -- several times -- but insisted his complaints were legitimate.  

One of Anderson's complaints -- dismissed by the ethics commission -- alleged Gov. Deal funneled campaign money to his daughter-in-law's company.  The Governor said they were legitimate fundraising expenses.

Those payments to Denise Deal's company for campaign fundraising were uncovered by the I-Team earlier this year and led to the outraged Governor refusing FOX 5 reporters access to an important bill signing.

"If it takes the I-Team to uncover a problem like this, that just shows you that these kind of complaints can't be found as frivolous," Perry said.

In the end, the commission voted 3-1 in favor of Mr. Anderson.

"Once he apologized and there was recognition that, in fact, he had crossed a line, I think the commission was satisfied with that," said Evans.

And the government watchdog, who has filed between 200 and 300 complaints during the past 17 years, said no more.

Evans says the commission's decision will mean it's open season on all politicians and their families.

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