Judge urges Clayton County to settle discrimination suit against sheriff

By Justin Boron

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas W. Thrash told attorneys involved in the discrimination suit against Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill that not settling the conflict meant a catastrophic burden on the county and the Sheriff's Office, attorneys present at a status conference Friday said.

Mediation talks and negotiations in the case had progressed to the point where the monetary portion of the settlement had been agreed upon, said Harlan Miller, the attorney for 34 plaintiffs who allege Hill discriminated against them when he took office in January.

But he said the agreement breaks down over what should be done with the employees after the settlement. Miller said he wants the county to provide them jobs outside the Sheriff's Office.

Regardless, he said Thrash did not appear happy with status of the case.

"It was very clear the judge was displeased that the commissioners have failed to do their job and get this case settled," Miller said.

John Stivarius, Hill's attorney, also said the ball is in the commission's court.

"At this very point in time, the issue is squarely placed in the hands of the Board of Commissioners," he said.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the matter is still under consideration.

Michael Smith, the chief staff attorney for the county, said the commissioners' attorneys would report to them at Tuesday's 7 p.m. county commission meeting.

At the Sept. 20 meeting, the board met on the settlement but did not come to any resolution.

If a resolution to the suit is reached, Stivarius said it would definitely not include any admission of wrongdoing by Hill.

"The sheriff did not discriminate," he said. "There won't be any settlement that says he did anything wrong."

On Friday, the judge also lifted the stay on litigation in the case, allowing attorneys to pursue what eventually would become a full-blown jury trial. The trial's process would increase dramatically the expense of the case and eat away at the insurance money covering the county's liability.

Also lingering is the appeal of one of the plaintiff's recent dismissal.

Hill is attempting to fire one of the employees he initially dismissed on Jan. 3.

Stivarius said Hill fired Tina Daniel with Thrash's approval, complying with all court orders.

Miller argues that Hill only made the request to the judge after he had dismissed Daniel.

They plan to settle the issue before the county's Civil Service Board.