Sheriff and county await ruling

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The future of Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale's operation now rests with a Jefferson County Circuit Judge.

"I was representing the people of Jefferson County," Hale said. "I talked about law and order, and safety. I made the case I was elected to make, to keep neighborhoods and communities safe."

Attorneys for Hale provided closing arguements Wednesday in the court battle with the Jefferson County Commission. "The law requires the county to set priorities," said Hale attorney Rob Riley. "At the top of that list is the office of the sheriff."

But Jefferson County Commissioners who testified in the case say if they can't cut the sheriff's budget by $5 million, the county may be open for more lawsuits.

"IT or somebody who does business with IT could sue us," said Commissioner Jim Carns. "Saying IT was cut more than the sheriff's department. Roads and Transportation was cut more. This is a circular firing squad."

Jim Priester, an attorney representing the commissioners, said in his closing the commission has to follow the balanced budget law and the sheriff should be cut just other important county departments.

Some commissioners say Hale's lawsuit and one filed by a patient representative of Cooper Green Mercy Hospital which seeks to keep that facility from cuts and closing is a waste of tax dollars.

"Instead of filing lawsuits, these people need to help us find ways to get through this crisis," said Commissioner Bobby Humphryes.

A Hale win will mean more county workers will have to be laid off.

"Ya'll know we can't come up with enough cash without jobs being terminated," said Commission President Bettye Fine Collins.

Collins has asked Governor Bob Riley to declare a state of emergency because of the county's funding problems. Riley's Press Secretary Todd Stacy said Wednesday that may not be a legal option.