Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic has asked county commissioners for permission to continue using former county attorney Bill Blalock in ongoing cases.
Blalock was replaced last month, and commissioners are seeking a new firm to represent them.
But in a letter to County Administrator Jock Connell and commissioners earlier this month, Cronic asked to continue using Blalock, rather than the interim law firm.
"It seems that as the economy has worsened we've seen a larger number of frivolous claims which unfortunately still have to be defended, so the cost associated with them has a very negative effect on our budget," Cronic wrote in the letter. "Since most of our cases move slowly through the legal system it would seem wasteful for us to transition to a new interim firm only to later transition to possible permanent firm once the (requests for proposal) are put out and bids are received. Not to mention the costs associated with any new firm becoming familiar with our operations and roughly 500 policies and procedures."
The commission has yet to come to a clear consensus on the request.
"We have not received official word on that at this time," said Col. Jeff Strickland, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff's Office.
In January, the commission voted not to renew longtime county attorney Blalock's contract, citing a desire to open the position to a competitive bid process and require firms to prove they have no conflicts of interest with members of the Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Ashley Bell, who voted not to renew Blalock's contract, said he would be in favor of letting Blalock complete work on cases he started before the commission decided to change county
attorneys, as long as he was working and communicating with interim county law firm Holland & Knight.
"Whoever we choose to be our attorney locally going forward should represent the sheriff's office, the tax assessor's and the county commission. This is just a temporary fix we have right now until we settle on one local firm," Bell said. "I'm in support of letting Bill continue to do work on those cases as long as someone who reports directly to the board has an understanding of what's going on ...We have up to four firms representing the county right now, so Holland & Knight is going to be the firm to make sure that all cylinders are clicking and everybody is communicating."
County Chairman Tom Oliver said he "completely" supports letting Blalock continue to work for the sheriff's office.
"I often wonder if we're trying to be frugal and take care of the taxpayers' money why we would not leave it with a local firm but we're sending it to Holland & Knight in Atlanta," Oliver said. "I think this makes no sense and I plan to bring it up Monday at the work session for a public discussion."
Commissioner Craig Lutz does not want Blalock to continue working for the sheriff's office.
"My basic feeling is that Bill Blalock is no longer the attorney for Hall County. Therefore he does not represent Hall County and I don't think it's appropriate for him to continue doing work under the banner of Hall County," Lutz said. "We are going to (bid) out that position again and Stewart Melvin & Frost with Bill Blalock certainly have the opportunity to compete for that bid and we welcome them to compete for it."
Sheriff's offices around the state tend to encounter a high volume of lawsuits, and Hall County is no exception.
Strickland said the sheriff's office is the sixth-largest in the state, boarding up to 1,250 inmates a day and responding to more than 250,000 calls annually.
"In law enforcement and especially with a jail the size of ours, the sheriff's office does have a certain amount of legal work we utilize a county attorney for," Strickland said. "We were looking to try to stay with the county attorney until the new county attorney is picked through the request for proposal process. However we will respect and honor the decision of the commission and we understand they have the authority to choose the county attorney."
In his letter to the commission, Cronic said the sheriff's office has encountered numerous accident- and inmate-related suits over the past 10 years, though there have been no judgments against the county in that time.
"(Blalock) has developed an expertise for the kind of false allegation and the legal ‘low-hanging fruit' that plaintiffs often try to manipulate in order to take financial advantage," Cronic wrote.