Trial begins for Clinch County judge - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Trial begins for Clinch County judge

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By Alicia Eakin - bio | email

July 7, 2008

Valdosta - A Clinch County Associate Magistrate judge went on trial in federal court Monday.

54 year old Linda Peterson is charged with perjury, making false statements and extortion.

Prosecutors say she lied to federal investigators and told a defendant he could pay money to avoid jail time.

After turning down a plea deal, jury selection got underway Monday with lawyers...including US Attorney Max Wood...choosing jurors from a pool of 84.

"They are going through and the different lawyers are asking questions to see if anybody has any conflicts like if they know the lawyers or the defendant and if they do they're excused," says David Rigdon who spent all day being questioned in the courtroom.

Then they were questioned for several more hours behind closed doors.

"The lawyers asked jurors individual questions and pick some that they hope will help their side of the case." Rigdon said.

Peterson is accused of lying to investigators when questioned about suggesting her father act as a bondsman for a fee which would go toward home renovations. She's also charged with forcing someone to pay money to avoid arrest and incarceration.

All the jurors we spoke to said they had little knowledge of the federal probe into the abuse of power in the Alapaha Judicial Circuit.

Twelve of them will soon learn a lot more.

As of our last report, jurors were still being questioned. If a panel is not selected later Monday afternoon, they will reconvene Tuesday morning at 9:00.

Opening statements will follow once a decision is made.

The FBI and Judicial Qualification Commission began their probe into the Alapaha Judicial Circuit in spring and summer of 2007.

Timeline of arrests, resignations and indictments since 2007

Spring 2007 - Judicial Qualifications Commission and FBI begin investigation of circuit

August 10 - Berrien County Sheriff Jerry Brogdon resigns after pleading guilty to federal gun charges

August 10 - Clerk of Court Danny Leccese resigns after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud

September 20 - Deputy Clerk of Court Melinda Davis, Deputy Sheriff Sissy Suggs announce resignations

September 24 -Linda Peterson indicted and suspended

September 27 - Former Homerville Housing Authority Director Susan Wyatt pleads guilty to embezzlement

November 2 - JQC files seven misconduct charges against Judge Brooks Blitch

November 15 - Clinch County Sheriff Winston Peterson indicted

November 15 - JQC files seven misconduct charges against Judge Berrien Sutton

November 20 - JQC files more charges against Blitch

2008

February 27 - Discovery case reveals FBI wiretapped Blitch's office

March 12 - Winston and Linda Peterson plead not guilty to all charges

March 14 - JQC files more charges against Blitch

April 10 - Jerry Brodgon receives probation

April 15 -  Hearing date set for Blitch and Sutton JQC trial

April 16 - Judge Blitch announces his resignation, JQC drops charges

May 1 - Judge Sutton announces resignation, JQC drops charges

June 15 - Blitch leaves office

June 19 - FBI raids office of Berrien Sutton

June 19- Darrel Watson, Robert Sumner, Tim Edison, and George McCraine indicted

June 30 - Sutton leaves office

July 7 - Linda Peterson trial begins

Blitch and Sutton are named as co-conspirators in several federal indictments, but neither has been indicted.

More information can be found on each headline in the timeline.  Click here.

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