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DUI spurs review of court, judge

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

PORTERDALE -- Some City Council members showed their dissatisfaction with the current Municipal Court judge, solicitor and private probation firm Monday night, voting 4-1 to seek out qualified applicants for those services. The vote followed a personnel discussion in closed session.

The decision by the council to advertise a Request for Qualifications was prompted in part by the manner in which a DUI case against a Conyers Police Department officer was handled last month. The officer, who was arrested in January by a Georgia State Patrol trooper after an initial stop by a Porterdale Police officer, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of reckless driving through a plea negotiation.

Draft minutes of discussion following the closed session indicate that council members had observed court sessions conducted by current Municipal Judge David Strickland and Solicitor Qader Baig, along with an assistant from Baig's office and were dissatisfied with what they saw. Baig also serves as county attorney for Rockdale County.

The minutes quote Councilwoman Linda Finger as saying that it seemed to her that the solicitor and his assistant "hurried the process to get out of here."

Councilman Lowell Chambers said that "from what he observed, the assistant was running the show," and Councilwoman Arline Chapman added that "she was not happy with the assistant," according to the minutes.

Councilman Robert Foxworth, who cast the dissenting vote on the question of calling for RFQs, said during the discussion that he was concerned about whether the city could pay greater compensation for the judge and solicitor positions considering the current budget situation.

Mayor Bobby Hamby countered that the RFQs would not mention compensation levels, only ask for qualifications.

The decision to advertise RFQs for the solicitor, judge and probation firm followed a discussion during the regular meeting about the handling of the Conyers police officer's case in Porterdale Municipal Court.

Newton County resident Robert Clay complained to council members about the way the DUI case was handled, saying negotiating the plea to reckless driving cast Porterdale in a negative light.

Officer Justin Shane Lykins, 35, was arrested Jan. 22 around 1 a.m. after a Porterdale police officer made a traffic stop on Lykins' 1996 Ford Thunderbird at the intersection of Ga. Highway 81 and Palmetto Street in Newton County. The Porterdale officer called in a Georgia State Patrol trooper to make the DUI arrest. Lykins was booked in the Newton County Detention Center and a breath test showed he had a blood alcohol content level of 0.105. The legal limit in Georgia is 0.08.

Clay asserted that the police officer was given preferential treatment.

"I was disappointed to see that myself," said Mayor Bobby Hamby.

Councilwoman Arline Chapman said she agreed with Clay, but could not comment further on the situation.

Hamby noted that the City Council does not control the judicial system in the town, but added that the council does appoint the solicitor and judge.

Councilman Robert Foxworth, who cast the dissenting bid on advertising RFQs, said Wednesday he was not happy about the council decision.

"The solicitor and judge, they haven't received a salary increase in three or four years, and to me they do an exceptional job for what they bring into the city. The solicitor usually brings one of his attorneys with him so they can get of out there without spending a lot of time, and that saves the city money."

Foxworth said some other council members believe the solicitor and judge are overpaid.

According to the city, Porterdale's solicitor and Municipal Court judge are each paid $750 per month. Court is held twice each month, on the third Monday for arraignments and the fourth Monday for bench trials. The court handled about 1,400 cases in 2010.

Councilman Mike Harper said the council had discussed concerns about the solicitor and judge prior to the vote Monday.

"I have been in court to watch how they run the court down there," Harper said Wednesday. "I feel like it is part of my job to do that. I thought they were doing a good job, the solicitor and the judge. But when this came out with the solicitor and judge and the parties that were involved in the decision-making ... I feel like if a man blows what he blew, he's drunk.

"It made my mind up to vote for looking for different qualifications."