Aldridge: Natchez broke law

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; One of the citizens who filed suit against the city over the rehiring of Willie B. Jones said the Supreme Court&8217;s dismissal of the case doesn&8217;t exonerate the city of wrongdoing.

&8220;It doesn&8217;t say they were innocent,&8221; local lawyer Courtney Aldridge said. &8220;They broke the law.&8221;

Aldridge and attorney Kevin Colbert filed the suit after the October 2004 aldermen decision to rehire Jones. They based their claim of wrongdoing on state law that says only the Civil Service Commission can rehire police officers.

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A lower court judge dismissed their claims, saying he couldn&8217;t weigh in on the hiring decision, because that was the role of the Civil Service Commission. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision this month.

&8220;That decision only said a private citizen cannot ask a court to comply with the law,&8221; Aldridge said.

But Civil Service Commission Chairman George Robinson said his board never took any action because none was necessary &8212; Jones isn&8217;t working as a police officer. Last May, Jones was transferred from his police officer position to a job as code enforcement officer because a state certification board denied his certification.

&8220;I thought that issue had gone to bed,&8221; Robinson said Friday. &8220;I&8217;m sure we would have followed the letter of the law as it&8217;s written&8221; if Jones had remained an officer.

But Aldridge said he felt the Civil Service had plenty of time to act after Jones was hired. Regardless, Aldridge said he felt his suit was justified in the end, since Jones was unable to receive the necessary certification.

&8220;What I was after ended up happening anyway,&8221; he said. &8220;The whole point of the lawsuit was to show our elected officials that people do care when they break the law.&8221;

Colbert is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Phillip West said Thursday he felt the Supreme Court&8217;s ruling showed that the lawsuit was frivolous.

Jones allegedly offered a fellow officer money in 1997 no to pursue a drug charge against a friend.