Adventures in City Attorney Land- The Revolving Door Claims Another Victim

Snellville, Georgia, a city in the southern part of Gwinnett County has a population of just under 20,000. During the past few years, Snellville has “put itself on the map” with the number one Farmer’s Market in the state, an outstanding 4th of July celebration, “Snellville Days” and numerous other festivals with free entertainment, and most recently, a new community garden.

Yet in spite of all the city’s positive aspects, it is fighting some demons. Since the current mayor has been in office, city attorneys have come an gone with alarming regularity. The latest chapter in what seems to be an endless saga began last December.

“Victim” may seem like a strange word to apply to a City Attorney, yet for the participants in the parade of attorneys who have recently attempted to serve the City of Snellville, it appears to be entirely appropriate. The most recent victims of Snellville’s revolving attorney door are Nola Jackson and Karen Woodward, members of the law firm Cruser & Mitchell.

Without any discussion whatsoever with other Council members, the current mayor appointed Cruser & Mitchell as interim City Attorney on December 13, 2012. On a number of previous occasions, Ms. Kautz had attempted to fire current City Attorney Powell. (Whether the mayor has the authority to fire the City Attorney is a matter that’s pending before a Superior court judge.

Obviously, neither Ms. Jackson nor Ms. Woodward had anticipated the positions into which they found themselves when they agreed to serve the city. At both the January 9th specially called meeting, and the January 14th regular meeting, Ms. Kautz placed Ms. Woodward in the unenviable position of being asked questions that appeared to be designed to solicit answers that would contradict those offered by Mr. Powell.

To her credit, Ms. Woodward expressed her honest opinion and more often than not agreed with Mr. Powell or stated that she didn’t have the information she needed to provide an answer. Ms. Woodward was clearly uncomfortable, having been placed under the aura of cross-examination. It’s a pretty safe bet that she didn’t anticipate her legal service would give her a starring role in a contentious court room-style drama played out in a public meeting.

Consequently, it came as no surprise that on January 17th, Cruser & Mitchell informed the City it was terminating its agreement to serve as interim City Attorney. In its letter to the City, the law firm stated, “Thank you for the opportunity to serve as interim city attorney for the City of Snellville. At this time, however, we feel it is not in the best interest of Cruser & Mitchell to continue in this position. In accordance with our agreement for services, we are providing written notice that, effective immediately, Cruser & Mitchell, LLP withdraws from representation of the City”.

That’s makes it five law firms that have gone through, or become ensnared in the revolving door in a little over a year. Two firms resigned and two were fired. In this case, two plus two equals five because one firm was fired, rehired and fired again.

The question is, “Where does the City go from here?” Given this history, many attorneys will decline to even consider serving as Snellville’s City Attorney—being fired, or resigning after only a few months or less on the job, is never a good thing to have on a resume, or on the minds of one’s peers.

So for the moment, Snellville’s revolving attorney door will continue to spin, just waiting for its next “inductee”.

For previous City Attorney Land Adventures, click the links below.

Adventures in City Attorney Land

Adventures in City Attorney Land, Part Deux