GOP’s Watts’ next stop: D.A. probe

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Next up for embattled Fayette County Republican Party Chairman Lane Watts: A probe by the Fayette County district attorney for possible criminal charges related to Watts’ legal residence.

The Fayette County Board of Elections will turn the matter over to District Attorney Scott Ballard based on what it called an ethical obligation stemming from credible testimony that Watts did not reside at a Peachtree City residence from September 2011 through March 2012 as indicated on Watts’ voter registration form.

The board denied the Aug. 13 challenge to Watts brought by Republican activist and attorney Richard Hobbs.

The evidentiary hearing conducted Aug. 13 before Board of Elections members Darryl Hicks and Addison Lester dealt with the matter of Watts’ residence at 109 Gelding Garth Lane in Peachtree City from late September 2011 through mid-March 2012.

Hobbs maintained that Watts did not reside at the Gelding Garth Lane address even though Watts’ voter registration paperwork indicated that he did.

The elections board on Aug. 24 in denying the challenge said, “While the Board has an obligation to conduct a hearing on all challenges filed, it does not believe it has the authority to remove an elector from the voter rolls based upon irregularities on a prior registration.”

That said, the Board of Elections noted that it would forward the matter to District Attorney Scott Ballard.

“The Board heard the unrebutted testimony of three witnesses that Mr. Watts did not reside at the home on Gelding Garth at any time from September of 2011 until March of 2012. The Board finds these witnesses credible. Based upon this evidence, the Board finds that it has an ethical obligation to report this matter to the District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit for further consideration,” the determination said.

Testimony at the Aug. 13 hearing came from three witnesses. Two of them had resided at the Gelding Garth Lane address during the time that Watts indicated that he lived there. The third witness was a next door neighbor who said she spent a great deal of time at the residence. The witnesses in their testimony indicated that Watts had not resided at the Gelding Garth address between late September 2011 and mid-March 2012.

Three others were subpoenaed but did not attend the hearing. Those included Lane Watts, his mother and Board of Elections member Marilyn Watts and Peggy Perkins.

District Attorney Scott Ballard on Tuesday said his office has received the information, though he has not had time to investigate the matter. The issue will have to be investigated before the appropriate course of action can be determined, Ballard said, adding that, given the current court calendar, any forthcoming action might not occur until later this year.

The local Republican Party has been embroiled in recent months over the Watts residency issue. A majority of county GOP delegates voted to remove Watts from his role as party chairman, but that wasn’t enough to reach the super-majority threshold required to unseat him. Watts’ current term ends early next year.