Bibb County has paid $50,000 to settle a federal whistle-blower lawsuit against the county’s chief magistrate, William C. “Billy” Randall.
John R. Watts, a former associate magistrate, filed suit in 2008, claiming that his appointment wasn’t renewed in 2006 because he had exposed two other magistrates who had accepted illegal “love offerings” for performing weddings during work hours.
Watts sought relief under whistle-blower protection and anti-discrimination laws. Randall, who was sued both personally and in his official capacity, has the authority to appoint associate magistrates to four-year terms.
Terms of the settlement were not released at the time the suit was dismissed Feb. 23.
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The Telegraph filed a request for the settlement details under the Georgia Open Records Act on Feb. 23, asking that Bibb County release documents pertaining to the agreement. The settlement document was released Tuesday, almost three weeks later.
Watts and his wife signed the agreement Feb. 18. Randall and County Commission Chairman Sam Hart signed it March 10.
In keeping with the law, The Telegraph was entitled to receive the document within three days of the newspaper’s request, even if the agreement wasn’t signed by both parties, said David Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association.
“The test isn’t whether they’ve signed it. It’s whether they’ve got it,” he said.
Virgil Adams, one of the attorneys representing Randall and Bibb County in the case, said the agreement wasn’t released earlier because of a pending federal appeal.
He said his office drafted the settlement document, and the payment came from the county’s general fund. Contacted Tuesday, Randall said only: “The case is settled. It’s handled.”
In exchange for the $50,000 payment, Watts agreed to dismiss his lawsuit and the pending federal appeal. Both parties agreed to pay their own attorneys’ fees and the costs of litigation.
Watts also agreed not to seek future employment with Bibb County.
Both parties agreed to keep the terms of the agreement confidential and to comment only that “the case was resolved” if asked about the case or the agreement.
Besides seeking relief as a whistle-blower, the 58-year-old Watts claimed that Randall had discriminated against him based on his sex and age. A federal judge dismissed the sex and age discrimination portion of the lawsuit and claims against the Bibb County government in September.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.