Initially, I was hesitant to become involved in the sheriff’s race because of the fact that I have to work closely as an attorney with those in law enforcement. In fact, I have great respect for the law enforcement officers in Troup County on the ground level working the streets to make this a safer community in which to live. We have some remarkable, selfless men and women who risk their lives daily for us. That fact should not be lost in the negative manner the sheriff has chosen to conduct his campaign.
The negative manner with which the sheriff has chosen to respond to concerns about bond forfeiture and procedures for collections of bonds by the sheriff is just wrong, too wrong for me to sit back and remain silent. The public needs to understand that this process is not as difficult to understand as the finger pointing and cross allegations indicate.
When a person is arrested, a judge sets the amount of bond that is to be taken and held by the sheriff prior to releasing the accused person pending trial. The sheriff is responsible for assuring that the amount required by the judge is posted. He is required by law to maintain procedures as public record, which are to be followed by his jailers prior to releasing an accused person. He is responsible for making sure that those procedures provide that the bond can be collected should the accused fail to appear in court.
If an accused person fails to appear in court, it is up to the judge to determine if the bond or a portion of the bond is forfeited. The sheriff is responsible for collecting for the county the bond forfeiture amount ordered by the judge from the security which he obtained prior to releasing the accused pending trial. If this amount is uncollectible, it is due to his failure to require adequate security prior to releasing the accused.
The breaking point on this for me was when Sheriff Turner chose to make this issue about Judge Little. Back in January, she requested a meeting to discuss the procedures in her court with regard to collection of bonds. She did this because she noticed that there seemed to be a problem in the area of bonds forfeiture and collection procedure, and she asked the county manager to convene a meeting between herself, the sheriff, the clerk, and the solicitor.
Rather than sit down with other county officials and discuss the issue, the sheriff and the clerk retained Dan Lee to represent them and refused to appear at the meeting. If, in fact, the Sheriff had issues about how forfeitures were being entered, that meeting was a fine time to discuss them.
If there were problems in his procedures or those of the clerk, that was the time to discuss the issues. Instead, for reasons still unstated, they chose to retain counsel instead of sitting down together to discuss procedure and problems.
Apparently, that failure was of concern to Judge Little as well because she then requested that the District Attorney look into whether there was any criminal activity involved in the failure to collect. She did not do this publicly or in any way directly attack anyone.
Pete Skandalakis, as district attorney, is correct that it is not up to him to review procedures in state court, his only involvement was to determine whether he would order an independent, outside investigation of how bonds were collected here in Troup County. He chose not to do that and issued a letter that he did not believe there was criminal activity requiring his involvement.
After that, Judge Little had done all she could to resolve the matter and she did not become involved until a request was made for the correspondence by the LaGrange Daily News. The sheriff has tried to parlay her response to the newspaper’s legal request as some sort on endorsement for his opponent.
Another issue I must clarify has to do with the sheriff’s Facebook postings where he attempted to capitalize on an entry made in error and immediately corrected by Judge Little in a further attempt to bring her into his election. The sheriff posted on his Facebook page a screen shot of what he claimed to be an endorsement of his opponent by Judge Little despite her immediate comment that she was not endorsing anyone in this or any other race.
I have personal knowledge of this matter because she called me on Saturday evening and said she had made a mistaken status entry and needed it to be deleted. To explain, after the sheriff’s attacks on her made in the papers and on Facebook on Saturday, she attempted to search for his opponent’s page to see if there were any comments on it that had posted concerning her.
She entered “Woodruff for sheriff” in what she believed was the search line to find his page. The status posting line is immediately below the search line and, by accident, it entered as a status on her personal page when she sent it to search. She immediately entered a comment after the posting was made stating that it was entered in error and was intended as a search and called me to help her in having the status deleted.
Within 13 minutes, the entire posting and comment was deleted. In the short time period that the status was on her page the sheriff obtained a screen shot posted it on Sunday with a statement implying it proved his belief that she was supporting his opponent. I became aware of his posting and was disgusted with the mischaracterization of and obvious mistake so I posted a comment on the sheriff’s page setting out that she had contacted me to delete it immediately when it posted.
My comment was instantly deleted and I was BLOCKED from commenting further on that page. These deplorable efforts to mislead the public on issues are sickening to me.
These concerns and my agreement with others disgusted by the transcript of the sheriff’s phone call with Jon Whitney have caused me to feel it necessary to step in and offer my endorsement for James Woodruff. The sheriff’s claims that his phone call was just a mistake and were out of character for him grow very suspicious in light of his attacks on Judge Little shortly thereafter. There is now no doubt that we desperately need change.
I have known James Woodruff since coming to LaGrange to practice law over 26 years ago. He was a rookie deputy at the time and I was representing indigent defendants as required by law, so we had a great number of cases in which he was the arresting officer of my client.
I grew to respect him for his integrity in how he handled his investigations, arrests and court appearances on behalf of Sheriff (Gene) Jones and, later, Sheriff Turner. I also respected his management ability during the time he served as chief deputy for Sheriff Turner.
Through the years, I have grown to know James as a wonderful family man with great love of his wife and children. We are not close personal friends and do not socialize together, but I can’t emphasize enough that he has always acted professionally and with the highest degree of ethics.
People should note that he is not involved in the nastiness of this campaign. No comment or publication put forth by James has referenced the Whitney situation or the bond forfeiture situation. Those are between Sheriff Turner and others. Despite a situation that would have caused many politicians to jump, he has remained on the high road in keeping with his manner that I have seen demonstrated for over 26 years.
It is my hope that the people of Troup County will come out and vote in large numbers for James Woodruff, not only because he will make a great sheriff, but also to make the statement that we will not stand for the misuse of power and position that the sheriff has demonstrated and we will not tolerate that type of underhanded attacks on the individuals or public officials working constantly to promote good ethics, policy and court procedures.
Sandra Heath Taylor
Attorney at Law