High court upholds Jones suit dismissal

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

Staff and Wire

NATCHEZ &8212; The Mississippi Supreme Court has agreed with a lower court&8217;s dismissal of a complaint filed against the city over the rehiring of police officer Willie B. Jones.

Circuit Judge Mike Smith &8212; who handled the case after local judges recused themselves &8212; ruled last May that he couldn&8217;t tell the city who to hire or fire.

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The lawsuit was filed by local attorneys Kevin Colbert and Courtney Aldridge after the October 2004 4-3 alderman vote to rehire Jones. Jones allegedly offered a fellow officer money in 1997 not to pursue a drug charge against a friend.

Mayor Phillip West &8212; the tie breaking vote in the decision to rehire Jones &8212; said Thursday he was glad to see the Supreme Court&8217;s decision.

&8220;I believe it was a frivolous lawsuit filed for political reasons,&8221; he said.

The circuit judge said only the Civil Service Commission had the authority to question the city&8217;s vote.

When aldermen voted to rehire Jones, City Attorney Walter Brown told the board that under state law, the authority to rehire a police officer rests with the Civil Service Commission.

The trial judge ruled Aldridge and Colbert should have demanded the Civil Service Commission investigate the matter.

Last May, Jones was transferred from his police officer job to work as the code enforcement officer for the city. The aldermen voted 4-3 in favor of the transfer after a state board revoked Jones&8217; officer certification for two years due to past conduct.

Jones is still working as code enforcement officer.

Because of the job change, West said the Supreme Court&8217;s ruling has little practical application, but does affirm the city&8217;s actions.

&8220;It doesn&8217;t matter so much,&8221; West said. &8220;But at least it establishes a precedent that it was consistent with the thinking of the board.

&8220;(Colbert and Aldridge) had no real standing in this instance. A complaint should have been filed with the Civil Service Commission.&8221;

West said Jones will have the option to reapply for a police officer job after his two years of certification suspension are over.

Colbert and Aldridge could not be reached for comment.