Sheriff hopes for quick court ruling - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Sheriff hopes for quick court ruling

Sheriff Jamil Saba Sheriff Jamil Saba
County Attorney Spencer Lee County Attorney Spencer Lee
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February 17, 2004

Albany-- Dougherty County Sheriff Jamil Saba says he is requesting a quick ruling from the Supreme Court on a budget dispute with the county.

Monday afternoon, attorneys for the Sheriff and the Dougherty County Commission presented their case to the justices.

It usually takes two to four months for the Court to issue a ruling, but the Sheriff says he is running out of time and money. The County says if there had been a jury trial to begin with, the matter would be resolved by now.

Three people in the warrants division have left for other jobs-- positions that have not been filled-- and the Sheriff's Office is falling behind. "We are not doing our job as far as warrants and the investigation goes because we are behind in it," Saba said. "A lot of the investigators are out serving the warrants trying to keep up on it but we are still behind in it."

Saba is using that extra money to pay the salaries of six investigators and patrolmen whose jobs he says were eliminated when the county cut his budget. It's money he says will run out by April, and that's why he wants a quick ruling by the Supreme Court. "I am an elected official. I am here to do a job just like the D.A. and the judges. They are elected to do their job and they have to have the money to do their job."

But County Attorney Spencer Lee says the $330,000 cut is just a small fraction of the Sheriff's overall budget. "We didn't bring the lawsuit the Sheriff brought the lawsuit over two-one-hundreths of a percent of a total budget of $15 million, the largest budget in the county."

The money cut is actually about two percent of the Sheriff's total budget, but the county attorney says the big issue is how the taxpayer's money will be spent in the future. "The issue is-- do we always have to simply take what the Sheriff says he needs and provide him those resources? Or can the county take a closer look and see whether or not the budget says we can provide that money for those resources?"

An issue the county attorney says can only be resolved fairly with a jury trial, but now it is up to the Supreme Court to decide if that will happen. The County appealed a September ruling by a Superior Court Judge in favor of the Sheriff, reinstating his cut money and paying for his attorneys fees.

The County says the matter should have been tried in front of a jury instead of a judge.

As the Sheriff prepares to work on next year's budget, he says he'll sue again if the commissioners try to cut his budget.

Saba says he has been a good steward of tax money and he'll fight for what he says are his constitutional duties, "You know I am going to try to save money anyway.  I will cut to the bottom line.  But, if they cut me where I cannot perform my duty then I will have no alternative than to go back to court."

In a brief filed by the County's attorney, they contend that "none of (the Sheriff's) statutory duties require the Sheriff to provide criminal investigations, crime scene processing or patrol services."  Rather, the Sheriff is to serve warrants and run the jail.

posted at 6:45 PM by melissa.kill@walb.com