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Posted: February 7, 2012 8:34 p.m.

Covington city judge not reappointed

Local attorney C. David Strickland was not reappointed as Covington Municipal Court Judge Monday night, apparently at least in part because of concerns about how municipal court and the city's probation systems were being handled.

Based on an Open Records Request received late Tuesday, the council received an email from an employee of East Georgia Correctional Services, the city's probation services provider, expressing concern about Strickland's performance as judge. On the other hand, concerns have also been raised about the probation company and the quality and accuracy of its reporting relating to probationers, the city's Administrative Services Director Ronnie Cowan said Tuesday evening.

The Covington City Council voted 5-1 Monday, following executive session, to temporarily appoint attorney Ben Hendricks as municipal judge and to put out requests for proposal (RFPs) to find a permanent judge. Councilwoman Janet Goodman was the lone opposing vote. She said after the meeting that she could not comment on the matter, though she said she disagreed with the way it was handled.

The council did not speak about the issue in open session, and Strickland said after the meeting he did not know why he was not reappointed. He was not in the council chambers during executive session. He was not available for comment Tuesday.

Municipal court judge, city attorney, assistant city attorney and city physician are all appointed by the council annually in January.

Councilman Keith Dalton said at the Jan. 16 council meeting that he wanted to go into executive session to discuss the performance of one person among the appointed positions. City attorney Ed Crudup, Assistant City Attorney Frank Turner Jr. and City Physician Dr. Henry Patton were all reappointed Monday.

"That's our appointment; it's just personnel," Dalton said Tuesday. "Basically, we just decided to go in another direction."

When asked if he had received any complaints about Strickland's performance, Dalton declined to comment.

During the meeting, Goodman made a motion to reappoint Strickland, which was seconded by Councilman Mike Whatley. The motion failed by a 4-2 vote. Councilwoman Ocie Franklin then made a motion to go into executive session for further discussion, which passed by a 5-1 vote with Whatley opposed.

Horton said Tuesday morning that, as far as he understood, the council is able to make appointments with or without cause.

The Covington municipal court judge is responsible for hearing cases involving minor traffic infractions, parking citations and city ordinance violations issued within the city limits of Covington. The court does not handle civil or small claims cases. The Covington courtroom is located in the Covington Police Department, 1143 Oak St.

Strickland has been municipal judge since 1996, according to his firm's website, and has a salary of $28,000, Horton said in an email. Covington's municipal court meets every Wednesday, Cowan said in an email.

Hendricks is a partner with the law firm Crudup, Hendricks and Edgar, 1117 Church St.; fellow partner Crudup is the city attorney. Crudup said Tuesday morning that, without any formal research, he did not believe there was a conflict of interest in having Hendricks serve as municipal judge. He said Hendricks does not do any legal work for the city.

Strickland is a partner with the law firm Alexander Royston, Hardman, Shinall & Strickland, LLP, 1116 Clark St.

He served as municipal court judge for Porterdale until mid-2011. He has served as the attorney for the City of Oxford and the Newton County Water and Sewage Authority.

The full contents of the Open Records Request were not able to analyzed and verified Tuesday; The News will run a follow-up story once more information is available.

In related news, the city solicited bids for a new probation company and plans to choose a new company soon. East Georgia, the current provider, did not submit a bid. Cowan said the contract has been modified over the years and some of the terms were no longer favorable to the city.

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