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No discernible settlement reached in Hill case

By Justin Boron

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night emerged from behind closed doors unable to say whether the more than two hours of deliberation moved them closer to settling a federal discrimination case against Sheriff Victor Hill.

The closed session marked the second time the board has considered the settlement proposal stemming from a lawsuit filed after Hill dismissed 27 sheriff employees on his first day in office, Jan. 3. Eventually, a total of 34 sheriff employees accused Hill of discrimination.

Like the outcome of Sept. 20 meeting on the issue, commissioners again appeared to reach no consensus that could be illustrated through a formal vote, which ultimately they would have to take in public to accept any settlement.

Individuals familiar with the mediation and negotiations have said the settlement proposal included between $3 million and $6 million in compensation to the plaintiffs in addition to their transfer to other jobs in the county.

The secret discussion came amidst a federal judge's stern warning that if settlement talks fail, trying the case would be catastrophic and disastrous for the county.

County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell declined to comment on how the meeting went, only saying the board is still considering what is in the best interest of the citizens of Clayton County and that it was in the hands of attorneys.

Jack Hancock, the board's attorney, said they are moving forward in considering what the options are.

Harlan Miller, the plaintiffs' attorney, said he wasn't surprised by the lack of a decision Tuesday night. But he said he hoped there would be more to learn of today.

Miller also said without a settlement, the dispute would escalate to "war in the streets."

"Rather than start the process of healing, we will start the process of battle," he said, adding he meant an intensification of litigation.

Maj. Michael Maddox, one of his clients, said he is ready to end the dispute.

"We've been stuck in the middle of something we have no control of," he said.

Throughout the dispute, Hill has maintained he had the right to fire the employees and didn't discriminate against any of them. His attorney, John Stivarius, has said Hill would not admit fault in a settlement.