Will West Point Municipal Judge Mark Cliett continue serving as judge now that he has been appointed part time public defender?
It's a question that's on the minds of many citizens of the community, including the West Point Board of Mayor and Selectmen, who discussed Cliett's new appointment Tuesday night during their regular meeting.
Cliett, who has served as West Point Municipal Judge for five years, was appointed last Monday by judges of the Sixteenth Circuit District to serve as part time public defender along with Kristen Wood Williams, who was also appointed to serve in the capacity part time.
During Tuesday's meeting Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins asked what the board plans to do about the post of Municipal Court judge and suggested that the board return back to their old method of allowing two individuals to serve as Municipal Court judge. Collins said not only will this expedite court proceedings but will allow young local attorneys an opportunity to train for higher judicial posts, such as the Sixteenth Circuit judge's position.
The demographics of the Sixteenth Circuit “is 49 percent Clay County and the other 51 percent is divided among the other three counties, and to be prepared to obtain that seat Clay County, I feel, should keep our young attorneys trained and give them the opportunity and experience locally so we can have someone represent us there,” Collins said. “That is one of my concerns.”
Mayor Scott Ross pointed out that no resignations have been submitted to the city from Cliett or city Prosecuting Attorney Angela Turner-Lairy, who announced she will run for Sixteenth District Senator. Ross said there are no vacancies as of Wednesday in these two posts, and he said he is not sure if there will be a vacancy soon for the position of municipal judge. Cliett could not be reached Friday or Wednesday for comment.
As far as the concern about Cliett serving as both Municipal Court and public defender, Scott said Cliett did receive an advisory opinion from one of the Sixteenth Circuit judges informing Cliett that there would be no conflict for him to serve in both seats.
Collins said the issue is not about whether Cliett can legally serve in both capacities. Rather, he said, the concern is giving other local attorneys the opportunity to serve as city judge if they so choose. He said at this time the board is uncertain if Cliett will be able to devote quality time and service as judge now that he has been appointed public defender. Collins recommended local attorney Michelle Easterling for the post of Municipal Judge, expressing that Easterling has put in a lot of community service and served on numerous boards in the city and county.
“She's a vital part of the community,” Collins said. “We can't send someone (to serve as Sixteenth Circuit judge) who's not prepared, who has no judgeship behavior. Let's not constrain ourselves to one person. Cliett has done a good job, and this is not a fight. I am looking out for the whole community.”
The board took no action on this matter.
Cliett will begin serving Jan. 1 as part time public defender for the Circuit Court of Clay County.