“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.