Bibb judges reverse approval of ‘love offering’ magistrate rehire

Four Bibb County judges did an about-face late Wednesday, ruling that the county’s chief magistrate could not rehire a former associate magistrate who was caught up in a “love offering” scandal eight years ago.

On Monday, Chief Magistrate William C. “Billy” Randall had reappointed Selinda D. Handsford to serve a four-year term on the bench, and all five Bibb Superior Court judges signed off on the appointment.

Wednesday, however, four of those five judges issued a new order, revoking their consent to the rehire. In order for a person to be appointed a magistrate by the chief magistrate, the majority of Superior Court judges must grant consent, according to the new order, filed in the Superior Court clerk’s office at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Judge Phillip Brown did not sign the new order.

After granting their consent for Handsford’s appointment, the Superior Court judges received additional information that might have affected their decision, according to Wednesday’s order.

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 couples 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.

Contacted Wednesday, Randall said: “I’m not going to make any further comments until I talk to” the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission. Randall said there had been some communication between the commission and his office.

Messages left for Handsford by phone, e-mail and at her home were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.

Because the matter of Handsford’s appointment still is pending, the judges are prohibited from making any public comment about the appointment due to the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to the Superior Court judges’ order.

On Tuesday, Randall said he didn’t mention the “love offering” case to the Superior Court judges when he submitted Handsford’s name for appointment. He said he didn’t see the need.

No information about the “love offerings” is included in the court documents pertaining to the appointment.

Randall has said that in his view, no crime was committed by Handsford or another judge who took cash to perform weddings during business hours. Instead, the judges violated administrative policy, he said.

The other magistrate indicted in the case retired.

Another former magistrate, John 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.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.