A Walker County, Ga., judge who leaves office Dec. 31 is angling for about $70,000 in back pay he claims he's owed.
Walker County State Court Judge Bruce E. Roberts filed suit against County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell, arguing that he deserved his predecessor's annual salary of $172,103 -- instead of the $100,000 salary that "Heiskell arbitrarily set."
Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Roberts on Oct. 3, 2011, to replace Judge C. Donald Peppers Sr., who retired.
Because Roberts filled Peppers' unexpired term, he was classified as an incumbent and an incumbent judge's salary cannot be reduced, the lawsuit states.
Roberts and his Summerville, Ga.-based attorney, Archibald Farrar Jr., declined to comment Thursday -- except to say that the case would be assigned to an out-of-area judge.
"I believe it's going to be assigned to a judge who is not from our judicial circuit," Roberts said.
Heiskell said Thursday she hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit.
"We negotiated that salary," she said. "I thought he was happy with it."
She said the state court judge is paid out of the county's general fund. State guidelines establish a starting salary of $60,000, Heiskell said, but Roberts had been earning $94,000 annually before he took the judgeship.
"I didn't want him to take a cut," she said.
Retired Judge Peppers earned more because he was in office for 25 years, she said.
"I was not told [Roberts] had to make the exact same amount as someone who had been there 25 years," she said.
"I don't have anything against [Roberts]," Heiskell added. "I like him. He's a nice guy. He's a smart man. He was the governor's choice for the appointment. I'm sure the governor respects him."
After December, Roberts will be replaced by LaFayette, Ga., attorney Billy Mullinax, who received 66 percent of the vote, or 7,358 votes, compared with Roberts' 34 percent, or 3,724 votes, in the July 31 primary election for the nonpartisan judge's race.
Mullinax didn't return a call seeking comment.
Heiskell said she'll negotiate a salary with Mullinax.
Roberts made headlines after losing the election when he dismissed 53 traffic cases in August in what he called a one-time act of kindness.
"I seriously doubt that Judge Mullinax will ever do that," Roberts told the Walker County Messenger.
Roberts then said that dismissing the cases was a spur-of-the-moment decision, and it wouldn't happen again. He said it was a "nice gesture, sort of an amnesty thing."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.