Powerful senator, weak punishment

George Hooks went to jail, but he was never locked up

For his second DUI, state Sen. George Hooks got a standard sentence: two days in jail, an $800 fine and 80 hours of community service.

The way he served his sentence, however, was far from standard.

Hooks, D-Americus, was never locked up, even though he signed a guilty plea, drafted by his attorney, that states: "I will be asking the Court to accept that sentence ... to serve 48 hours in jail."

Fulton County State Court Judge Charles Carnes agreed to the sentence conditions on April 3, and even permitted Hooks to serve his jail time in southwest Sumter County, where he lives, rather than in Fulton, where the DUI occurred.

According to court records, Hooks already had spent his 48 hours in jail at the time of his sentencing. In a letter to the court dated Dec. 22, former Sumter County Sheriff Randy Howard verified that Hooks had spent two days in his custody at the sheriff's office, which houses the jail.

But no one by the name of George Hooks has ever been booked there, according to Stacy Alford, clerk of records at the Sumter County jail.

Hooks pretty much agrees.

"Well, I was in the custody of the sheriff. Let me put it that way," Hooks said when asked if he served any time. "It means I'm in his presence, under his supervision."

When CL asked the former sheriff when Hooks did his jail time, he first said he could not recall.

"It was done listed down there in the jail books," said Howard, whose term expired Jan. 1. "I don't have the records with me. ... I wish I could help you."

A few days later, Howard said he was mistaken.

"He did spend time, but I wouldn't say it was a type of incarcerated time," Howard said.

He said he couldn't keep Hooks in jail overnight because the judge had not yet sentenced him. But in anticipation of the sentencing, Howard said Hooks spent a few afternoons at the jail.

"We went through the whole process of what could happen if he went to jail," Howard said of Hooks' jail field trip. "We showed him about fingerprinting, processing, mug shots. We went into the facility, showed him holding cells. ... He also had an opportunity to talk to inmates as well as talk to some of the officers there."

It is unclear whether Judge Carnes understood that being in the custody of the Sumter County sheriff did not equate to serving time behind bars. Carnes referred calls to Chief State Court Judge A.L. Thompson, who could not be reached.

Hooks' attorney, Bruce Morris, on a break from defending one of the Gold Club managers in a federal racketeering case, said he did not know that the senator was never booked into jail. Nor is he fazed by it, he said.

"I would not be surprised if he simply spent 48 hours in the custody of the sheriff in the jail itself," Morris said. "I think that's happened before in various jails. Sometimes, they just don't put [DUI offenders] with the general population."

This was the second DUI arrest in 10 years for the 56-year-old Hooks, a legislator of two decades who heads the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. The committee helps set funding for all state agencies, including the courts and often is in a position to provide grants to local government.

State Capitol police arrested the senator at 8:30 a.m., Oct. 6, after his Jeep Cherokee rear-ended a Mercedes near the Capitol. Hooks' blood-alcohol level was .16 — twice the legal limit.

Carmen Smith, Fulton County solicitor general, says she approved the sentence allowing Hooks to serve his time in Sumter County. She says she does not know if that has been allowed in other DUI cases, but that she approved Hooks' Sumter County sentence partly because there's little room for him in Fulton.

"Fulton County is one of the largest, most overcrowded jails there is," she says. "We're always trying to think of different ways in which to hold people accountable."

A judge and two attorneys, each of whom asked to remain anonymous when contacted by CL, said they'd never heard of a DUI offender being allowed to serve in a separate county from where the offense occurred. State Law Department spokesman Daryl Robinson said he thought he'd heard of such a thing happening before.

The former sheriff, who called Hooks "a big asset to our county down here," says the senator is sorrowful enough as it is.

"I reckon we all got our vices or stuff we're embarrassed about," Howard says. "But this has really tore him up. We talked a couple of weeks ago and he said it's probably one of the most embarrassing things that ever [happened] to him. ... He said, 'I regret it every day.' "??