As Crawford County voters begin casting ballots Monday in advance of the Nov. 8 election, their suspended coroner, Allen O’Neal, is set to stand trial in a criminal case accusing him of violating his oath of office.
Jury selection is set to begin Monday in Hamilton, the county seat for Harris County, located north of Columbus and near the Georgia-Alabama border.
Maureen Gottfried, a Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge, is set to preside in the case. Judges from the Macon Judicial Circuit, which includes Crawford County, disqualified themselves.
O’Neal was arrested May 6, 2015, and indicted about a month later on two counts alleging he violated his oath of office. He’s accused of not responding to a May 2, 2015, death call and firing a deputy coroner because he did respond.
O’Neal’s lawyer, Michael Chidester, said his client is “looking forward to having his case heard by a jury.”
The death call came nearly a year after O’Neal filed a lawsuit against Crawford County, asking that the county provide him an office, car, Internet access and fax equipment at home along with other items or money to do his job.
Superior Court Judge Tripp Self of the Macon Judicial Circuit dismissed the lawsuit May 4, saying it lacked merit and later ordered O’Neal and his attorney to reimburse the county the $70,487 it incurred defending itself against the suit as well as $36,183 it paid for O’Neal’s legal fees
As of Friday, the money hadn’t been paid, County Manager Pat Kelly said.
He said O’Neal and his civil case attorney, Bonnie Michelle Smith, have appealed the issue to the Georgia Court of Appeals and the case is pending.
Robert Cody, one of O’Neal’s deputy coroners, has been serving as acting coroner since May 11, 2015.
Gov. Nathan Deal suspended O’Neal from office in August 2015 after appointing a panel made up of two coroners and the attorney general to consider the case. The panel unanimously recommended O’Neal’s suspension.
The suspension will stand while the criminal case is pending or until O’Neal’s term expires Dec. 31, 2016.
O’Neal, who’s been the county’s coroner for more than 24 years, is running for re-election as an independent against Republican challenger Sheldon Mattox and Democrat challenger Arnold Walden.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.