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City’s judge resigns; position could change from elected to appointed
by Joan Durbin
jdurbin@neighbornewspapers.com
August 21, 2013 02:13 PM | 2225 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A clash of courtroom philosophies has spurred the resignation of Roswell’s longtime municipal judge.

“Thirty of the best years of my life were spent there on the bench. We had a model courtroom that was looked up to by everybody in the state,” said now-former Judge Maurice Hilliard. “But the last three years have been a nightmare.”

Those years correspond to the hiring of a new court solicitor, Krista Young, whom Hilliard characterized as a by-the-book prosecutor. Hilliard said his methodology has always been focused more on trying to work issues out rather than automatically proscribe whatever the law allows for an alleged offense.

“I want to make a difference, help people who need help,” he said. “I don’t believe, for example, that someone should have a criminal record for a childish prank. I also didn’t think that everyone who came to court needed to pay fines.”

Mayor Jere Wood said it had become evident that Hilliard and Young were like oil and water.

“He and the prosecutor have different views,” Wood said. “We’ve got two independent-minded people who are both competent and with very different opinions, different perspectives and approaches.”

Young has a year left to serve in her second appointed two-year term, Wood said.

Rather than put in one more year in which he “hated to go to work,” Hilliard went to the mayor Aug. 5 and resigned.

Next month, he will be “of counsel” to the law firm of Head, Thomas, Webb and Willis in Atlanta. He also picked up paperwork to qualify for the November municipal elections.

“I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time,” he said on Monday.

However, what will happen to the office of municipal judge now has Hilliard concerned. The city’s administrative staff is recommending that the court clerk system be privatized and city council members are thinking about making the judge an appointed position, rather than elected.

Wood said those issues are expected to be on the Aug. 26 council agenda.

Hilliard has two years remaining in his term and the city charter requires a special election to replace him. Wood said the city attorney has told him that council may appoint a judge if it so chooses rather than hold an election, because state law doesn’t require an election and it supersedes the city charter. The council will have three options: call a special election in November coinciding with other municipal elections; call a special election in March; or decide to appoint a magistrate.

Hilliard is dead set against making the office an appointment. “If I’m appointed by you and don’t do your bidding, how long will I stay appointed?” he asked rhetorically. “Whoever occupies that seat needs to be fair and independent to referee cases.”

He said he hopes the public will go to the Aug. 26 meeting to hear the discussion and share their views with council members.

Roswell is the only municipality in the state that still has an elected city judge, both Hilliard and Wood said.

“I do not necessarily believe that is a strong argument” for an appointed judge, the mayor said. “But that point will be made” during the discussion, he said.
Comments
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Roswell Since 89'
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September 25, 2013
Judge Hilliard will be missed in Roswell. He knew the meaning of fairness in law and how to separate true crime vs minor offenses. He always took into consideration the person's life and how it would be affected before passing a judgement. Being a fair judge is not something that is written in any book of law and thus should not have a "set formula" on punishment. Growing up here I can tell you first hand that Judge Hilliard has helped make the City of Roswell one of the best places to live in the state of Georgia. It is truly sad that we are now faced with the possibility of a generic corporate version of the law with no regard to the individual.
Long time Roswell
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August 27, 2013
Very validate point about electing versus appointing a city judge. Do we want a judge who will bend according to the mayor and/or council? We have seen in recent history in municipalities near Roswell that are now having to take to court officials who are not working for the citizens but for a higher-up.
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