published Thursday, January 17th, 2013

City Court judge calls Littlefield 'vindictive'


by Cliff Hightower
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, from left, City Court judge Sherry Paty
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, from left, City Court judge Sherry Paty
  • photo
    Judge Russell Bean mingles at the Chattanooga Theatre Center in this file photo.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Don't expect the simmering dispute between two City Court judges and Mayor Ron Littlefield to go away anytime soon.

As the mayor approaches his last two months in office, he pledged to keep up efforts to change how the City Court Clerk's office runs.

"The need to clean up and make more efficient the operations of the City Court clerk's office will continue on," Littlefield told City Council members Tuesday.

After a council agenda meeting Tuesday, City Judge Sherry Paty characterized the mayor's motivation differently.

"He's vindictive," she said. "He doesn't understand the separation of powers between the judicial and executive office. He thinks he should rule."

A heated spat among Littlefield, Paty and City Judge Russell Bean occurred Tuesday just before City Council committee meetings. The judges walked out of the meeting after the mayor called them "unprofessional" for their comments about his proposal to name his deputy to the City Court clerk post.

His deputy, Anita Ebersole, withdrew her name from consideration Tuesday after criticism about her salary and questions over whether the mayor was trying to help a friend.

Littlefield and both judges could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

His spokesman, Richard Beeland, said the mayor would be out the "rest of the week."

Littlefield said Tuesday the court clerk's office needs updating because it still relies almost exclusively on paper rather than electronic files. He said it's the most outdated and inefficient department in the city.

"It's depressing, quite frankly," he said.

The mayor and city judges have had a contentious relationship for several years.

Bean said the mayor has tried to diminish the judges' powers since Littlefield inserted himself in a City Court case and Paty had to recuse herself.

The 2010 case involved the Pet Company at Hamilton Place mall, which was raided by authorities for unsanitary conditions and faced fines in City Court.

Littlefield emailed Paty about the case. She said the communication was improper and stepped down from the case.

Since then, the mayor's office has floated several ideas about the City Courts, including consolidating them with General Sessions Court and moving the court out of its current building.

Last year, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority took over enforcement of downtown parking and also set up its own mediation site for appeals, taking away many of the cases that formerly went before city judges.

The City Council shot down a mayoral proposal to establish an administrative hearing officer who would hear environmental cases, taking even more cases away from the city judges.

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