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Attorneys: Judge bias in Hill case

By Justin Boron

Attorneys for Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill want Superior Court Judge Ben Miller off the case stemming from the sheriff's 27 controversial firings on his first day in office.

Hill's attorney, Rolf Jones, said the judge's comments following his declaratory judgment on the county's Civil Service Act in March demonstrated a possible conflict of interest.

After ruling that sheriff employees could not be dismissed without just cause, Miller cited a 34 year relationship with the county and lectured those involved with the litigation, saying they needed to "bury the hatchet" because of the damage it had caused the county.

Jones said the statement was a problem and hopes the next level of courts will set aside the ruling.

"If you've got a 34 year relationship with the county, there is some potential bias there," he said.

Miller said he notified the appropriate authorities about Jones' motion to recuse him and could not comment further.

Hill has maintained that he does have the right to hire and fire at will as part of his reorganization plan and is pursuing an appeal of Miller's ruling.

What impact the recusal motion will have on the appeal is unclear, said John Stivarius, Hill's attorney for the appeal.

"It's probable that it might have some impact on the appeal," he said.

Meanwhile, as part of a separate discrimination suit in federal court, Hill and attorneys for the sheriff employees avoided a hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon by extending an agreement that says the sheriff must ask permission of the federal judge to take personnel action on sheriff employees above the rank of corrections officer.

The agreement stems from a prior consent order signed by both parties. Its extension eliminates the need for a hearing to gain a permanent injunction against the sheriff.

County officials say the ongoing federal suit and a lengthy appeal process in the civil service question will add considerably to costs of the litigation.

County government invoices put the cost of attorney fees in the matter at about $36,000, which does not include what is expected to be an expensive March given the number of attorneys working on the civil service question.