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Posted: 2:38 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, 2012

Juvenile Court Judge Belinda Edwards not reappointed

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By Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fulton County’s Superior Court judiciary has decided not to reappoint Chief Judge Belinda Edwards and also is prohibiting her and others from firing Juvenile Court employees.

In a recent vote, Fulton’s 20 Superior Court judges decided against giving the Juvenile Court judge another four-year term. Shortly after that decision was made, Edwards dismissed a top court official, prompting Fulton’s chief Superior Court judge to sign an extraordinary order banning additional firings.

The Dec. 21 order, signed by Chief Judge Cynthia Wright, directed the Fulton’s personnel director, county manager and finance department to take no adverse employment actions against any Juvenile Court employee, unless Wright gives them written consent to do so.

Wright also rescinded a prior “adverse action” that had been taken against the Juvenile Court’s chief administrative officer, Omotayo Alli. Alli, who declined to comment, is to continue serving in her current position with no diminution in authority, duties, compensation or benefits, the order said.

On Friday, Wright said, “Any employment decisions should be made by the new administration, not by the outgoing administration in the final days.”

Edwards, whose term ends Monday, said she was disappointed by the judges’ vote not to reappoint her. “I have appreciated the opportunity to serve,” she said in a statement provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It has indeed been an honor and a privilege.”

Before the vote, Edwards said, she appeared before the Superior Court bench and was given about 10 minutes to speak about the Juvenile Court and her accomplishments. “At that time I was not told by the bench the nature of any concerns they might have or the nature of any negative public comments,” she said. “I, therefore, had no opportunity to refute any allegations.”

She said that during her tenure on the court she had never been told by any member of the Superior Court leadership that there were concerns about her service and that she had been told prior to the vote she had the support of many of the court’s judges.

The Superior Court’s administrator, Yolanda Lewis, said the vote to deny Edwards’ reappointment was conducted in private and the tally was unavailable.

In her statement, Edwards said she was unaware of Wright’s order “rescinding any adverse action against Mrs. Alli, whom I hired, or the authority for such. The chief administrative officer serves at the pleasure of the chief judge and the incoming chief should always have the freedom to select that person.”

After Alli was dismissed, Wright said, the judges became concerned about what might happen to the Juvenile Court’s other employees.

“Proactively, I took steps to address it and to protect the employees down there in Juvenile Court and the citizens of Fulton County,” Wright said. She said she had the authority to enter such an order because the chief Superior Court judge has supervisory authority over the Juvenile Court, which is “an inferior tribunal and we are ultimately responsible for it.”

Before being appointed to the Juvenile Court bench in 2004, Edwards, 59, served as general counsel for Morris Brown College and as legal counsel to the Atlanta Board of Education.

Wright said the county will soon begin advertising for a new judge on the busy court, which has seven judges.

“We thought it was time for a change,” Wright said of the decision not to reappoint Edwards.

“The challenges and the issues that come before the Juvenile Court in 2013 are far more complex than those that came before the court in the last few decades,” she said. “Given that, the Superior Court thinks it’s time to move in another direction. The Superior Court appreciates Judge Edwards’ service on the bench and her commitment to Fulton’s children and families.”

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