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Sheriff Hill isn't malicious, reckless,' his attorneys argue

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Responding to the county government's request for the federal court to stop the sheriff, and temporarily remove him from office, the sheriff's attorneys have challenged the county's legal move, and the scope of the court's authority.

Sheriff Victor Hill's legal counsel filed a 27-page response to the county late last week. The document counters the county commissioners' 119-page document, which alleged that the sheriff was out of control and asked the court to order him to stop a long list of reportedly damaging and legally costly actions. The county's document also asked the federal judge to consider temporarily replacing Hill, who was elected in 2004 and is up for re-election in July.

Appealing to the limitations of federal law, the sheriff's lawyers argued "this Court lacks jurisdiction, or other authority to remove the powers provided to the Sheriff by the Constitution of the State of Georgia."

The document, filed with the federal court late Wednesday, relies on Hill's legal position as sheriff as a defense, citing the "sovereign, official, or qualified immunity" he has while acting in his official capacity. At other points, the document cites a host of legal doctrines in defense of the sheriff, including the "doctrines of accord and satisfaction, after-acquired evidence, bankruptcy, consent, estoppel, justification, license, res judicata, and/or unclean hands, and waiver."

The center of the argument between the county and the sheriff, however, appears as the sheriff's "fifth defense."

According to the fifth defense: "Hill has neither intentionally, nor willfully violated the County's rights in any manner, or acted maliciously or negligently with respect to the County, or any entity or individual ... Hill has not acted with malice or reckless indifference."

The county, asking for relief in a document filed with the court earlier in May, argued that Hill has been reckless since his first day in office.

The sheriff has recklessly disregarded the civil-service rights of employees, has obstructed justice by blocking Clayton County Police officers' jailhouse interviews, and has subjected inmates to "cruel and inhumane" conditions, according to the county's allegations.

Hill's attorneys denied all the allegations and demanded a jury trial.

The dispute is a side issue in an ongoing civil suit which names the sheriff and the county commission as co-defendants.

Hill's former second-in-command, William "Tee" Cassells, who alleges that his constitutionally-protected right to free speech was violated when he was fired and publicly called a liar. Cassells is seeking financial and punitive damages, and outlined his complaint against the sheriff, and the county, in a lawsuit last November.

In responding to the suit, the county sought to distance itself from the sheriff by arguing it can't be held responsible for what it doesn't control. After spending 22 pages defending the county from Cassells' complaint, the attorneys joined him in attacking the sheriff, filing a "cross-claim."

It was not clear, when the counter to the cross-claim was filed, if the argument would go to a jury, or if the side argument in the Cassells case was going to be settled by the court.

One of the sheriff's attorney, Josh Viau, said the cross-claim was completely unprecedented, legally improper, and should be rejected by the judge.

One of the county's attorneys, Jack Hancock, said the sheriff's recklessness can't be ignored anymore, and the county doesn't have any options against an elected official who doesn't seem to listen to any authority, and doesn't seem to care if he loses lawsuit after lawsuit.

Both attorneys are being paid by Clayton County taxpayers.