COLUMBUS, Ga.- At Tuesday night’s Columbus City Council meeting, the council approved passing an ordinance that created a line item to pay legal fees for Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr and Superior Court Clerk, Linda Pierce’s legal fees.
This case has been going on since Nov. 2014 and started when Darr, Pierce and two others sued the city for their 2015 fiscal year budgets not being sufficient enough. In an interview with News 3, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said Darr came in a couple hundred thousand dollars over budget. She added that she feels that everyone is subject to the same budget process and that process is vital to the welfare of the city.
There was a point in the case when a judge ruled that attorneys of the prosecution can submit the legal fee bills to him and he would examine the bill to see if they are necessary, and he ruled they were necessary. Georgia law states that if constitutional leaders like a sheriff, supreme court clerk, tax commissioner and probate judge sue their city, the taxpayers pay for the legal fees.
Tomlinson says the dispute came from where the money to pay the fees would come from. The city wanted the money to be pulled from the Sheriff’s Office budget, but a judge said that it be pulled from a general fund, but the city does not have a general fund they pay people from. Instead, a line item titled “judgments and settlement of claims” was created. Tomlinson said that was the only place to put it since there was not a line for paying 3rd party vendors hired by constitutional officers. In other words, they were not approved by city government.
Tomlinson added that the nature of the allegations are not just a monetary claim.”What this is, is a demand that our budgetary system be handled in a way that they get what they want,” Mayor Tomlinson said. “And we can’t operate in future years under the threat that constitutional officers are going to just sue us to get what they want.”
“It’s ironic that the city which was being sued for not giving the sheriff adequate money to feed the prisoners, hire enough deputies and provide courtroom security and those kinds of things required at his office by Georgia law,” one of Sheriff Darr’s attorneys Kerry Howell said. “They wanted him to have to pay his own attorneys from his budget which was already inadequate.”
Mayor Tomlinson said this whole case has been a travesty and should have never been filed and the city will hold their position that constitutional officers can not control monies outside their budget and it was an error for trial court to direct the city to pay attorney fees from a particular fund.
Howell says there has been so much time spent on this case on motions that should have never been filed.