Trial postponed for Vidalia Alderman when he fires lawyer two days before facing jury

Published 11:37 am Monday, January 31, 2022

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VIDALIA — A Vidalia Alderman facing charges of abuse of office and theft had his jury trial delayed after the alderman made a last-minute decision to change attorneys.

Vidalia Alderman Robert Gardner Jr. had a trial scheduled for 9 a.m. today, however, Judge Kathy Johnson granted him a continuance because Gardner terminated his attorney Charles Jones last Friday. Arrangements with a new attorney have not been finalized However, Gardner’s next court appearance has been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 9.

District Attorney Brad Burget expressed disappointment at the delay.

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“We were prepared to go to trial today,” Burget said. “This was a blindside. Judge Johnson essentially had no choice but to give him a continuance because of his right to an attorney. I’m disappointed that the matter could not be tried today.”

Gardner said he is unable to comment on this story at this time. He continues to serve as alderman of District 2.

Gardner was indicted on the charges in November 2020 for allegedly taking envelopes owned by the Town of Vidalia with prepaid postage and mailing them to the voter registrar’s office to request absentee ballots for his constituents as he was running for reelection.

Burget could not give a number of how many envelopes were taken but said at least 11 of them turned up at the registrar’s office and appeared to have the town’s information whited out.

In addition to that, Gardner is accused of making town employees make copies for him on a town printer for non-authorized reasons—that is for any purpose not related to his position as an alderman—which is an abuse of office, Burget said.

The theft is a misdemeanor charge while abuse of office, if Gardner is convicted, could result in one to five years prison time and a $5,000 fine.

Burget said he expects Gardner’s new attorney to be allowed a reasonable amount of time to prepare, which could push his jury trial to this coming May.

“We are hopeful that it will happen sooner than that. This causes a lot of uncertainty,” Burget said.