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Attorneys file briefs in Hill controversy

By Justin Boron

All of the shouted accusations and insults were reduced to a pair of dryly written legal briefs filed Tuesday and Wednesday in the tenuous saga between sheriff-elect Victor Hill and the county government.

The dueling briefs argue over Hill's standing to block the transfer of two crucial investigative components currently housed in the Sheriff's Department.

In the coming days, a judge will decide whether Hill has the right to permanently enjoin the county commission from passing a measure he says narrows the scope of the Sheriff's Department less than two months before he takes office.

The legal wrangling stems from a county commission agenda item from Tuesday last week that proposed to move the narcotics and crime scene investigation units from the Sheriff's Department to county police supervision.

Hill received an emergency injunction from county Superior Court Judge Albert Collier and the item was deleted from the agenda.

In Hill's brief, sent to Senior Superior Court Judge Byron Smith of the Towaliga Circuit, Zenobia Arnold Carter argues that the standing issue is hung on whether Hill can show that the transfer would harm his ability to execute a successful tenure as sheriff.

She also submits that Hill's standing as a state representative applies to the case.

Citing a 1974 Georgia Supreme Court case, she wrote, "(T)he sheriff has control over his budget and the county commission could not divest him of his power and duty to enforce the laws and preserve the peace.

"The county commission is attempting to do exactly what the court in (the above case) said it could not do . . . (t)his would totally undermine the powers of the sheriff-elect," she wrote.

The Board of Commissioners' attorney, Jack Hancock, responded by claiming Hill lacked standing because in 1966, a court ruled " ?judicial power will not be exerted . . . to stay the course of legislation while it is in the process of enactment."

Hancock said in effect, Hill is asking the court to become the county commission.

Hancock also argued in the county's brief that Hill's power as sheriff does not begin until he officially takes office.

Citing an 1871 Georgia Supreme Court case, he wrote, "Until Mr. Hill is sworn in and takes upon himself the duties of sheriff, he has no power or authority that may be by law vested in the holder of that office."

Finally, Hancock said the two components proposed to be moved are not requirements of the sheriff's department.

Both parties faxed their arguments to Judge Smith, who will make a decision on the issue that has culminated months of contention between Hill and the county government.

Hill's relationship with the county has been characterized by a series of confrontations that revealed signs of apparent personal tension between the sheriff-elect and the current county Commission Chairman Crandle Bray.

Bray has said all of his actions are in the best interest of the county.

But Hill says attempts to narrow the sheriff department's authority suggest otherwise.

The bad blood between the two may stem from a state congressional appointment from almost two years ago, which would have been favorable to Bray, but which Hill would not support as a House representative for District 74.

Hill points to it as the initial source of conflict. Bray has not said whether it affected his relationship with Hill.

Regardless, multiple clashes have occurred in the months after Hill's victory in the July 20 primary.

In August, the county commission was set to act on the transfer of more than $83,000 in Sheriff Department funds to the Community Development Department.

The measure would have removed two positions from Hill's staff.

But Bray agreed to leave the matter alone after Hill threatened litigation.

About a week after the conflict with Bray, Hill butted heads with his supervision at the county police department, accusing Chief Darrell Partain of harassment.

Hill said an order relegating his duties to pawn shop investigation unit illustrated the problem.

Partain maintains that any personal conflict was excluded from the action.

Less than a month later, Hill abruptly quit his job at the police department, leaving a letter of resignation inside his cruiser at police headquarters.

Tensions appeared to dissolve after the incident until Nov. 2, when the county commission agenda proposed to move the two sheriff units.

The development sent Hill on a tirade of accusations that pinpointed Bray as the facilitator of a vindictive agenda against him.

"Crandle Bray plays checkers, I play chess," he said.

If the judge rules that Hill has no standing, then the county commission is free to transfer the two units.

But if he rules in favor of Hill, it will be left for the courts to decide whether the county commission can legally transfer units from the sheriff's department before the sheriff-elect takes office.