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Until recently, those who ran afoul of the law in Chattooga County, Ga., could call on "Uncle Wiggy" for help.
For $24.95 a year, a lawbreaker could ask questions on unclewiggy.com, a website that also offered the pamphlet, "Uncle Wiggy's Secret Guide to Dealing with the Police."
Launched in March by Summerville, Ga., police detective Josh Brock and county sheriff's Deputy Jeremy Reece, the website shut down recently. The Uncle Wiggy business cost the lawmen their jobs, closed state court for a day and spurred conflict among attorneys and prosecutors over alleged ethics violations.
County Attorney Chris Corbin, representing the Chattooga County Sheriff's Office, wrote a letter in late June stating that Solicitor Sanford "Buddy" Hill shouldn't be able to prosecute misdemeanor cases in court anymore because he advertised with "Uncle Wiggy."
"I feel your prosecution of any matter in State Court is now prohibited," Corbin's June 25 letter states.
State Court Judge Sam Finster postponed court Monday after Hill and Corbin argued before the judge. Finster told the attorneys to take the matter to the Georgia State Bar.
By Monday afternoon, the judge said, Hill told him the State Bar said: "If there had ever been a conflict of interest issue, it had been resolved."
Hill told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Wednesday, "There's nothing to this. All this is, is a political ploy."
Uncle Wiggy's LLC was incorporated on March 19.
It's unclear whether anyone bought a membership on the now-defunct website or what sort of advice the officers were giving.
Corbin said he was told the website offered advice such as how to book a towing company and a list of local bail bondsmen.
Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader said he had heard about the website, but an officer alerted him that his own officer was one of the company owners. Schrader confronted Reece about the website, the operation of which broke multiple sheriff's office policies, and Reece asked to resign on June 25, the sheriff said.
Schrader said he let Reece resign and didn't investigate the website further.
Brock resigned the day before Reece from the Summerville Police Department.
Summerville police Chief Stan Mosley didn't return calls seeking comment, and neither did Brock. Reece couldn't be reached for comment.
The same day Reece resigned, Hill was accused of a conflict of interest. That came up in a letter Corbin wrote to Hill over a client he was representing.
Hill, who is a part-time solicitor, represented James Burse, who sued the county claiming personal injuries because a Chattooga County sheriff's deputy hit him with his patrol car. Burse was seeking $300,000 in damages from the county.
But Corbin said the county solicitor shouldn't represent a client against Chattooga County when he works for the state court. In that same letter, Corbin pointed out that Hill had advertised on the Uncle Wiggy's website and that raised red flags with the sheriff's office.
But Hill said the allegations were political.
Hill said he was approached by Brock and asked if he wanted to advertise in a pamphlet that other local attorneys were endorsing. So Hill said he gave the officer his business card for his private practice.
"I never saw the web page. It was only up for two days and taken down because he caught flak," Hill said.
But Hill did decide to drop Burse as a client over the controversy.
Now Schrader doesn't believe Hill had a conflict of interest, because Schrader got his hands on a copy of the pamphlet.
Inside there are excerpts from Georgia law and the constitution mixed in with commentary from the officers, Schrader said. But when a reporter asked the sheriff for a copy of the pamphlet, he declined to make one available.
As for the website, Schrader said there is no proof that the officers were giving special treatment to anyone who signed up to Uncle Wiggy. He said he would not investigate further.
"We didn't know what actual information was being provided," Schrader said. "I don't know if we'll ever know."
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
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.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...