Mediation in Hill case begins this week

By Justin Boron

Clayton County officials and several attorneys this week will get the chance to resolve the close to seven-month legal dispute surrounding Sheriff Victor Hill's dismissal of 27 sheriff employees on his first day in office.

Confidential mediation meetings are slated to begin Tuesday in Atlanta for a federal lawsuit against Hill in which the plaintiffs allege their civil rights were violated when he fired them.

The shake-up in January overshadowed a political transition of several newly elected officials who fit better into the demographic scheme of the majority black county.

Challenging a long-standing employee merit system at the time, Hill still maintains he has done nothing wrong.

Atlanta defense attorney Hunter Hughes will be the mediator for the three days of meetings, which attorneys involved say could result in a settlement.

"You never know what's going to happen," said Harlan Miller, the attorney for 34 plaintiffs in the federal suit.

Miller's legal counterpart also acknowledged the possibility, saying it would best thing for everyone.

"It's in everybody's interest if they can move on," said John Stivarius, Hill's counsel in the matter.

But much ground still needs to be made on what amount or if any money at all will be part of the settlement.

Stivarius said he can't find any money that the fired employees actually ever lost. The county government has continued to pay the plaintiffs during the dispute.

Miller, on the other hand, argues that the employee's severe treatment warrants a money.

He also said the Board of Commissioners would have add some of its funds to the settlement.

"The insurance money is insufficient to settle the case," Miller said. "There's no point in going to mediation if that's where they're at."

Another element of an amicable end to the lawsuit is the employment status of some of the plaintiffs who still work in the Sheriff's Office.

Miller said he wanted some plaintiffs to have retirement options while others with less time in the county should be transferred to other positions within the county government.

If no settlement results from mediation, Miller said the legal climate would heat up significantly.

A federal judge is still to decide on recent motion alleging Hill violated a consent order when he reprimanded Sheriff's Office Capt. Angelo Daniel for using letterhead with former Sheriff Stanley Tuggle's name on it.

Hill said he did not reprimand Daniel and dismissed the motion as "propaganda."

"(Miller) is a propaganda circus," he said.