By Daniel Silliman and Joel Hall
Jonesboro City Court Judge William W. West has resigned in protest, alleging that the mayor was attempting to take control of the court.
In a letter sent to Mayor Luther Maddox and the city's six councilmen, West wrote that he could no longer sit on the bench "without interference from the Mayor and certain members of the City Council."
He resigned on Thursday, July 31, after 15 years.
West told the Clayton News Daily he hadn't any problems with the two previous city administrations, but when Maddox took over in 2007, he saw a change.
"The mayor wanted to dictate to me how to handle cases," West said. "It was an encroachment on my authority."
West said the first instance was kind of subtle, "and was one of those types of things where you had to read between the lines," and he ignored it.
Then, West said, the city's solicitor, Jerry Patrick, who prosecutes the city's cases, told him he was being pressured to give special consideration to a councilman's friend, a city councilman from another city, who was caught speeding in Jonesboro.
Then, a second time, the solicitor said the mayor was asking for "certain considerations" for a constituent who was accused of violating a city ordinance in a business license case, according to West, who wouldn't give specifics.
"I have been a judge for at least 20 years," West said, "and I try to maintain propriety and an open court. I make every effort to ensure equal application of the law,and I made it clear we would treat this 'special' case the same as we would other cases."
According to West, he never heard anything after the two "special" cases, but then the mayor said he had to change the way the court dealt with people who were unable to pay fines. West said Maddox told him to sentence people who couldn't pay their fines to probation, and when West protested, he said, the mayor just insisted saying, "That's what we're going to do."
In his resignation letter, West wrote that the mayor's move "clearly violates the separation of powers provision" and raises the question of "whether a fair trail is ever possible" in the city court.
Maddox declined to comment on the allegations, saying only that: "The judge felt that he needed to resign at this time, so I accepted his resignation."
City Councilman Roger Grider, who has worked closely with the mayor, said the judge's resignation shocked him. According to Grider, there's a backlog in the city court and Maddox and a couple of councilmen were looking for a better way to manage cases, and then the judge over-reacted.
"We were asking for advice," he said. "I think he just took it the wrong way ... We weren't trying to tell him how to judicate or how to do [his job]. We were looking for ways to make this move. We thought that he was going to give us some suggestions."
The city has not yet appointed a judge to replace West.