Porterdale says DUI case not linked to search for court personnel

Qadar Baig

Qadar Baig

PORTERDALE -- In letters sent to Municipal Court Judge David Strickland and former Solicitor Qader Baig, the City Council maintained that the timing of its decision to advertise a Request for Qualifications for those positions was coincidental and not related to dissatisfaction with the handling of a DUI case against a Conyers Police Department officer.

In the letters, which were signed by Mayor Bobby Hamby, the city states that the decision to advertise RFQs was prompted by a desire to "ensure that the court is staffed by qualified and respected professionals, and that all procedures are conducted with the utmost decorum and professionalism. This can best be accomplished by periodically opening these positions for review and renewal in a public and transparent process. ... ."

The letter also states that the decision to publish the RFQs had been under consideration "for some time" prior to the Conyers officer's DUI case, which was adjudicated in April.

The letters, which were delivered Thursday morning to Strickland and Baig, who also serves as Rockdale County attorney, were authorized by the council in a 4-1 vote following a closed session Monday night. Councilwoman Linda Finger cast the dissenting vote.

Finger said she opposed the motion to send the letters on principle.

"It's all been very misunderstood," Finger said. "I don't feel like the council owes a letter of explanation or apology or any form to the solicitor or the judge. I disagree with it. Everybody did what they thought was best, and I just don't feel like we owe that."

Finger added that the city decided to advertise RFQs in order to formalize contractual relationships with the solicitor and judge. "As a whole, we felt like we would have more professionalism if our key people are under contract," she said, noting that the city manager and police chief are now under contracts.

The City Council decided May 2 to advertise the RFQs for the two court positions as well as the private probation service provider. In discussions prior to that vote, some council members expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which court sessions were conducted and some members expressed their displeasure with the manner in which the recent DUI case involving a Conyers officer had been handled. The officer was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving.

The letters sent to Baig and Strickland Thursday state that "the handling or resolution of that particular case was not the motivation for the city's action." The letters state that "given the controversy associated with the case, the city has reviewed the facts and circumstances. The mayor and council are satisfied that the case was handled in accordance with the law ... Indeed, it appears the manner in which the case was disposed likely resulted in the most appropriate disposition of the case."

In the letter to Baig, who resigned May 23 as Porterdale's solicitor, the city asked that he reconsider his resignation. "To this end, the city requests that you reconsider your resignation of your present position and invites your application under the RFQ," the letter states.

Baig could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Strickland, who has served as Porterdale Municipal Court judge for 15 years and Covington Municipal Court judge for 16 years, said he has not yet decided if he will submit his qualifications to the city.

He said he was somewhat comforted by the fact that the council had determined that the Conyers officer's case was handled in the most appropriate manner. "But I'm also not sure how that squares with their decision to advertise RFQs," he said.

Strickland said he could not recall the city advertising RFQs for court positions in the past 15 years. "If they ever considered it, I know they've never shared it with me," Strickland said. "I've never been asked to submit qualifications."

When asked how court would be conducted later this month, Strickland said he couldn't say for sure.

"I'm not certain what they are doing because even if you have a judge, you can't have court if you don't have a solicitor," he said.