By Justin Boron
The 23 sheriff employees, whose ranks a judge restored last week, were returned to their original jobs and sworn in by Sheriff Victor Hill Wednesday, completing a circuitous full circle that began when Hill initially fired them during his first day on the job.
Since Jan. 3, the employees have been fired, rehired, demoted, and now promoted.
The promotions came less than 24 hours before a judge required Hill to restore the status quo to his department as part of a contempt of court action that laid out a $1,000 fine for each day Hill failed to comply.
Hill deputized the employees around 2 p.m. Wednesday and gave them some administrative instructions.
He refused media access to the deputization and would not elaborate on the substance of his instructions, saying it was an internal matter.
But Harlan Miller, the attorney for the 23 promoted employees, spoke with his clients after they were sworn in and said the sheriff made them sign an oath in which they agree that they work at the pleasure of the sheriff.
"It's legal gibberish," he said. "It has no legal effect whatsoever."
Hill also said while he would not single out any specific employee, he would reprimand them for violating in-house policies, one of which prohibits them from speaking to the media.
Miller said the rule, which was created under former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle's administration, was illegal.
"One of the things that we're trying to accomplish with this federal suit is to strike down these unconstitutional rules," he said.
Hill and Miller will meet in federal court February 23.
Miller also said he had doubts that simply giving back the ranks of the employees would fully restore the status quo because some of the new deputies hired by Hill will share responsibility with the returning employees.
He said he has filed three suits to address those problems.
Miller said he also filed a request for a declaratory judgment that would decide whether Hill was an official of the state or of the county.
The judgment would determine who would pay for Hill's legal bills.
Miller said he hoped the question would be answered when Superior Court Judge Ben Miller ruled on whether sheriff employees are protected by the county's Civil Service Act on March 24.
Hill has maintained that the sheriff employees have never been adopted into the program, which requires the establishment of just cause before dismissal.
In an unrelated event at the Sheriff's Office, Hill deputized three Riverdale Police officers to serve warrants outside of the city limits.
Before the deputization, Riverdale had no way of serving people who did not show up for their court dates.
The previous sheriff had refused to deputize municipal police for the warrant purpose.
Tuggle said it could have left the county liable for any mistakes made by the deputized municipal police officers.