COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - A judge from Macon, GA overseeing the ongoing legal dispute between the City of Columbus and Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr has issued a ruling in the case.
The decision comes two years after Darr filed the lawsuit alleging the mayor and city leaders erred when issuing him a reduced budget for fiscal year 2015 and 2016.
Judge Phillip Raymond, III determined that Sheriff John Darr does not have the legal right to require council to accept his full budget request.
Darr filed the suit in 2014 because the mayor reduced his budget proposal by approximately $1.2 million. Darr maintains the deep cuts were detrimental to the day to day operations of his office and the jail.
According to the judge's order, Darr's claim was based solely on language in the city charter which states such budget requests like "shall be incorporated into the overall consolidated budget for submission by the mayor to city council."
Judge Raymond emphasized that word, "incorporated" in his ruling stated Darr's lawsuit and alleges the word "incorporated' forces the mayor and council to accept his complete budget.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and the city are touting the ruling as a victory in the case while the plaintiffs are calling it a major disappointment.
"It was a gross misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the clear language of the charter and frankly of Georgia law which says the mayor has to balance a recommended budget, exercise discretion and take into consideration all sorts of things," said Tomlinson.
Attorney Kerry Howell of Macon said he congratulates the city attorney on the result they received for the city and acknowledges the good work they did.
"I think it would be a mistake not to do so," Howell said. "Secondly, we respect the judges' ruling. I know that may sound strange that but I have a lot of respect for this particular judge and all superior court judges. It was a tough problem and we respect his ruling. we disagree with it respectfully. And we believe that the sheriff as an elected official his recommended budget knows what it's going to take to operate his office when 8-105 says incorporated that's just what it means."
Darr's case is not over entirely, the issue of whether he was given insufficient funds to run his office for fiscal year 2016 has not been settled. Wednesday's ruling settles the dispute over the budget process-- how the city and mayor handled the procedure when reducing Darr's budget.
Judge Raymond also noted in his ruling the complaint about Darr's 2015 budget is a moot point because it's over and cannot be revised.
Raymond is the third judge to hear the case after the first two judges recused themselves due to health reasons and a conflict of interest.
Mayor Tomlinson also mentioned ex parte communications from the plaintiff attorney to the second judge which also interfered with the case.
Legal fees in Darr's case, Tomlinson said, could climb to almost $2 million once it's all said and done.
There are also three other pending cases filed by Marshal Greg Countryman, Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop and Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce.