Judge grants city’s motion to dismiss lawsuit regarding Willie B. Jones’ rehiring

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; A judge has granted the City of Natchez’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit disputing the city’s rehiring of police Officer Willie B. Jones.

But in doing so, Circuit Judge Mike Smith made an argument upon which plaintiffs Courtney Aldridge and Kevin Colbert based their case &045; that only the Civil Service Commission can hire an officer.

In his order, which was signed Monday and received by the Adams County Circuit Clerk’s Office, Smith, judge for the 14th Circuit, said a circuit court cannot direct a city to hire an officer.

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&uot;The circuit court has no jurisdiction to direct the City of Natchez to terminate or reinstate a police officer,&uot; Smith said in his ruling. &uot;That power lies exclusively with the Civil Service Commission.&uot;

In addition, Smith said, &uot;the Civil Service Commission is establish in this state as the only forum where a terminated public employee may contest his dismissal and seek reinstatement.&uot;

Aldridge referred questions to Colbert who, like Mayor Phillip West and Civil Service Commission Chairman George Robinson could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Aldermen voted 4-3 in October, with West breaking the tie, to rehire Jones at his former rank of patrolman.

City Attorney Walter Brown had told the board that under state law, the authority to rehire a police officer or firefighter rests with the Civil Service Commission, not aldermen.

Aldridge and Colbert then filed a complaint for writ of mandamus against West and all six aldermen in Circuit Court to reverse to decision to rehire Jones.

In their motion to dismiss, Joe and Lee McCoy, the city’s lawyers in the case, stated the board voted Oct. 22 but the complaint was filed Nov. 22. They said state law requires an appeal of such a vote to be filed within 10 days of such a meeting.

In an April 19 hearing before Smith in Lincoln County Circuit Court, Colbert argued that the complaint they filed, a complaint for writ of mandamus, isn’t subject to the 10-day deadline under state law.

But in his order, Smith said that under state law, Aldridge and Colbert should have demanded the Civil Service Commission to investigate the matter.

Under state law, Smith said, &uot;this is (the) plaintiff’s exclusive remedy.&uot;

Smith was chosen by the state Supreme Court to hear the case after local judges recused themselves.

Another milestone in the case comes Thursday, when the State Board of Law Enforcement Standards and Training holds a hearing in Jackson on whether Joes is eligible to serve as an officer.

The board’s decision, which will focus on alleged conduct by Jones, is expected that same day.

In 1997, Jones allegedly offered a fellow officer $260 not to pursue a drug charge against a relative of Jones’ then-fiance.

Jones resigned before an investigation into the matter was finished and was later arrested in the case. Jones was charged with felony obstruction of justice but pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge.

The charge was expunged, or wiped from his record, late last year.

But a person who been out of law enforcement for two years or more must be approved by the Standards and Training Board to attend a refresher course prior to being re-certified.