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May 1, 2009

Chattooga County judge resigns, voter fraud charges dropped

Suspended Chattooga State Court Judge Carlton Vines has resigned his position and all charges pending against him have been dropped.

Vines was charged with unlawful possession of ballots, conspiracy to commit election fraud and making false statements in connection with filing notice of candidacy.

Vines was tried on the charges in March and a mistrial was declared after the jury could not reach a unanimous decision. A new trial had been scheduled for June.

"Voter fraud undermines the integrity of our elections processes and the public's trust, and will not be tolerated,” Secretary of State Karen Handel said. “Carlton Vines’ resignation is a victory for Georgia’s election laws and Chattooga County voters.”

Pursuant to the consent order, Vines resigned his position as state court judge in Chattooga County effective May 1. Further, Vines agreed to not seek, request, or accept elected or appointed judicial office in the future.

“The charges were all about politics from the start,” said defense attorney Rex Abernathy. “This certainly proves it – they wanted a judgeship from the beginning and now they got it.”

The charges surrounded the 2006 election for state court judge in Chattooga County.

Vines beat incumbent Samuel C. Finster by 125 votes in the election. Finster won the ballot box by 2,119 votes to 1,943 but lost the absentee vote 336 to 637.

Gov. Sonny Perdue swore in Finster as interim Chattooga County State Court judge. A spokesman for Perdue said that if the position came open then Finster would be appointed for a full term.

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