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Judge Hilliard steps down from Roswell Municipal Court


Says, 'It's time,' wants position to stay elective, not appointive


August 19, 2013
ROSWELL, Ga. Roswell Municipal Court Judge Maurice Hilliard is calling it quits after 32 years on the bench dispensing his unique brand of justice. He has been called by both detractors and friends as acerbic and irascible outside the courtroom.

Sitting on the bench, he was fair and dispassionate, and attorneys said they knew the case would be tried on the law. But Hilliard said the time had come to step down.

"It was just time to go," he said.

After practicing law for 19 years, Hilliard served one year as Roswell's solicitor and then ran for Municipal Court judge in 1980. He won that handily and never looked back.

"At the time, I had been the first full-time lawyer in Roswell. I guess I knew a lot of people. I beat the incumbent, and he didn't come back to finish out his term," Hilliard recalled.

Hilliard has a little more than two years left on his current term, but there should be time to get the seat on this year's ballot in November.

"It was not a sudden decision. It was something that had been building for quite a while. I guess I just burned out, and was at a point where I was under a lot of stress," he said. "For 30 years, it was a wonderful place to work, and I was blessed to have three of the best prosecuting attorneys you could ever wish for."

Hilliard said Roswell had a model court that was admired across the state of Georgia. But that had changed in the last three years.

"For 30 years, I felt like we were making difference, helping some young people, we're doing something for the community. For the last three years, I felt like an ex officio tax collector," he said.

Asked what changed, Hilliard declined to go into details.

"The city decided to take a different approach," he said. "The city hired a city solicitor from Cobb County. She had a different idea how things should go, and it hasn't worked out as far as I was concerned. It got to the point where anyone could have put on a robe and sent them next door to pay X number of dollars."

Hilliard said he saw the job as an opportunity to help people, whether that was giving young people an opportunity to get into rehab or getting mothers and fathers who "couldn't get along" into anger management counseling.

"As long as I was able to do that and do some good, I was happy. When that ceased, I ceased to feel the need to tilt at windmills," Hilliard said.

The judge said he wanted to leave now so that a new election for the unexpired term could be conducted. He said he did not want the City Council to be tempted to make the position of municipal judge appointive.

"I think the municipal judge has to be that third party between the city and those who stand before its court. People need to know they have a fair arbiter, and I don't know that you can absolutely say that when the judge is beholden to seven people for his job," Hilliard said.

Hilliard had a reputation and a habit of striking down city statutes he found vague or simply out of order.

Asked his thoughts on Hilliard's career, Mayor Jere Wood replied as many would when asked that.

"The first thing is Maurice has been the judge for almost half my lifetime, which was considerable," Wood said. "He's had a distinguished career and been a model for other judges."

Hilliard has been exemplary in handling young offenders, and ran his court with decorum, the mayor said.

"He's been a good judge," Wood said.

Asked about the conflict that Hilliard alluded to, Wood said that Hilliard has always had an independent office.

"The judge has never been a tax collector. And his policy on fines and penalties are not directed by the council, but are solely determined by him. He has never received pressure from this mayor or this council to raise revenues," Wood said.

It was clear the judge and the solicitor did not "see eye to eye," but every plea submitted by the solicitor has to be accepted by the judge, the mayor said.

As to when the new election date will be set, that has not been discussed by council. Wood did let council know by special called meeting that Hilliard resigned.

"But when to call the special election has not come to council yet. We haven't reached that point yet, so I couldn't tell you whether it will be in November or not. It will be discussed in the upcoming weeks," Wood said.

"I think the council will deliberate whether it is appropriate to continue with an elected judge or to go with an appointed judge. I think that is an open question," he said.

Executive Editor, Appen Media.
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Tags: Community & Outreach, Government & News & Crime

  1. report print email
    Public should be outraged at thought of an appointed judge in Ro
    August 22, 2013 | 09:16 PM

    Judge Hilliard stepped down when he did to make sure that the People would continue to have a voice on their elected judge. The city council and mayor wish to discuss an appointed judge to take independence away from the judicial branch. The judge stands as a independent thrird party between the police and the people. The Cory council in changing this system would be violating the charter of the city. If you want to stop this you must let your voices be heard. The city wants the issue to quietly move to the background so that they can steal your judicial election without notice or fanfare. I am a former Roswell Police Officer and I am currently an attorney with a statewide criminal law practice including the city of Roswell. As a police officer I won cases in front of judge Hilliard and I also lost some. As a trial lawyer I won some trials in front of Judge Hilliard and I Also lost some. An elected judge can exercise independent judgment in determining if the State has proven its case. An appointed judge, beholden to 7 city council members, cannot.

    Cory Yager
    Woodstock, GA
  2. report print email
    Roswell City Charter
    August 25, 2013 | 12:38 PM

    Article Ch.7 Municipal Court:
    Section Ch7,20 Chief Judge and Associate Judges
    (1) The municipal court shall be presided over by a chief judge, who shall be elected as provided in subsection (3) of this section, and such associate judges, part-time, or stand-by judges as may be provided by ordinance.
    (3)The chief Judge of the municipal court shall be elected at the same election at which members of city council........

    Section Ch7.50 Vacancy

    If the vacancy occurs at any other time (other than within 12 months of the expiration of his term, as is the case) the vacancy shall be filled by a special election called for that purpose by the city council within a period of 60 day after the office becomes vacant.

    That is the law that this Council is obligated to comply with. Failure to do so is a violation of the City of Roswell Charter.

    Lee Fleck
    Roswell
  3. report print email
    JUDGE HILLIARD
    August 29, 2013 | 02:07 PM

    I MOVED TO ROSWELL IN 1978 AND GROWING UP AS A TEENAGER IN ROSWELL I DID GET IN SOME TROUBLE WHEN I STARTED DRIVING. IT SEEMED LIKE I RECIEVED A TICKET FROM ROSWELL PD EVERY TIME I TURNED AROUND. EVERY TIME I WAS SUMMONED TO COURT TO SEE THE JUDGE "MR. HILLIARD" HE ALWAYS SEEMED FAIR IN THE WAY HE DEALT WITH ME AND MY FAST DRIVING HABITS. HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A STAND UP JUDGE IN MY EYES. ROSWELL WILL SUFFER A GREAT LOSS WITHOUT HIM. THANKS FOR YOURE TIME.

    Brian O Lewis
    ROSWELL
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