A former Bibb County magistrate who resigned in the wake of a “love offering” scandal in 2003 was rehired this week.
Selinda D. Handsford was reappointed Monday by Chief Magistrate William C. “Billy” Randall, according to Bibb County Superior Court records.
Handsford was indicted in Bibb County Superior Court on July 13, 2004, on one count of violation of oath of office and eight counts of theft by taking after allegations that she took cash from brides and grooms to perform wedding ceremonies during work hours in 2003, according to court records.
The criminal case was later dismissed after Handsford resigned from her position and paid restitution of “a couple hundred dollars,” said former Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke, who prosecuted the case.
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“I considered the situation handled,” he said Tuesday.
Burke said Handsford cooperated with authorities. She was not barred from becoming a judge in the future, he said.
Handsford’s Georgia Bar Association online record shows no history of any disciplinary action.
Messages left for her by phone, e-mail and at her home were not returned Tuesday.
Jeffrey Davis is director of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that investigates judicial misconduct. Speaking in general terms, Davis said there’s no statute of limitations for when the commission can file formal charges against a judge. The commission is the only agency that can remove judges from office after an appointment.
In order for a chief magistrate to appoint an associate magistrate, a person must meet qualifications required under state law, and the appointment must have the consent of the county’s Superior Court judges, he said.
All five Superior Court judges signed the appointment order consenting to Handsford’s rehiring, according to court records.
Reached Tuesday night, Chief Judge Martha Christian said the Superior Court judges would be issuing an order Wednesday. She would not divulge any other details.
Randall said Tuesday he didn’t mention the “love offering” scandal to the Superior Court judges when he submitted Handsford’s name for the appointment. “I didn’t see the need,” he said.
No information about the “love offerings” is included in the court documents pertaining to the appointment.
Randall said he reappointed Handsford because “she is a good judge,” and he had a vacancy after not reappointing Erica Woodford to the bench. He said he couldn’t discuss why he did not reappoint Woodford because “it’s an employee issue.”
When contacted Tuesday, Randall initially said he checked to see if Handsford had been indicted in connection with the “love offering” case before reappointing her, and he did not find the indictment.
He said an indictment wouldn’t have made a difference in his decision to reappoint Handsford, however, because the case did not end in a conviction.
Handsford’s name is spelled without a “d” in the appointment order issued Monday. The name is spelled with a “d” in her 2004 indictment and in her bar association record.
Randall maintains that no crime was committed by Handsford or another judge who took cash to perform weddings. Instead, he said, the judges violated administrative policy.
Before her resignation, Handsford had worked as a Bibb County magistrate for nearly four years.
“Other than that one slip-up, she’d been an excellent judge,” Randall said. “I’ve talked to her, and she understands what she can and can’t do.”
Handsford’s new appointment lasts for four years. Her county personnel record and salary information were unavailable Tuesday due to her recent hire date.
The other judge indicted in the case retired, Randall said.
Another former magistrate, John R. Watts, filed a federal lawsuit in 2008 claiming that Randall retaliated against him and didn’t renew his appointment in 2006 because Watts exposed the illegal “love offerings.” He also claimed age and gender discrimination.
Although a judge has dismissed Watts’ sex and age discrimination claims, the judge ruled that the case can proceed on the issue of whether Randall is liable for a First Amendment violation. Randall’s lawyers are appealing the decision, said Bernadette Crucilla, the attorney representing Watts.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.