Less than two weeks after an Ogeechee Judicial Circuit judge ruled Jeff Northway could no longer be mayor of Springfield, the embattled Northway resumed his spot upon the city council dais.
Northway, acting upon advice of his attorney, took his place in the middle of the six council members and put his nameplate up at the start of Tuesday night’s city council meeting. City council members, many of whom sought his ouster, allowed Northway to continue to preside over the meeting.
But attorney Warren Ratchford, filling in for city attorney Rick Rafter, his law partner, warned Northway his actions Tuesday night might land him in hot water.
"This is a judge’s order," Ratchford said of Judge William Woodrum’s July 29 decision to remove Northway from office. "You will be subject to whatever the court determines. Mr. Northway, you will be liable to sanctions from the court. In my opinion, you have violated the terms of the court."
Northway’s attorney, Charles Herman, served notice to the city that the court order, filed Aug. 1, was unenforceable. They informed the city that Northway intended to act as mayor until the law said otherwise.
Herman also said the judge’s order could not take effect for 10 days from the time it was filed. Ratchford, however, said Herman was applying the wrong code section — Herman was arguing a point reserved for findings that resulted in a payment.
"In my opinion, this case was an injunction seeking Mr. Northway’s removal of office," Ratchford said.
Ratchford also said the law requires certain things be done, such as Northway paying for estimated court fees. Because the fees, estimated at $935, had not been paid, the court order remained in effect, in spite of Northway’s appeal of the decision.
Ratchford also advised the council to continue the meeting, with Northway presiding. He offered that the council could adjourn until the court hears the matter, appoint a mayor pro tem or ask Northway again to resign. The council members who asked the Superior Court to remove Northway from office also have filed for an injunction. That case will be heard Aug. 17 at 9:30 a.m.
"In 28 years as a lawyer, I have never been faced with this," Ratchford said.
He also said he had about 30 minutes to review the latest missives between Herman and Mickey Kicklighter, who represented the council members. Rafter was out of town for the birth of a grandchild.
"I did not know all these things were going to take place," Ratchford said.
While he delivered his opinion to council members at the start of their meeting, Northway conducted a call on his cell phone — drawing an upbraiding from council member Kenny Usher.
"Are you done now?" Usher asked Northway brusquely as he finished his phone call. "Are you through?"
Springfield Merchants Association president Jamey Stancell said he was disappointed Northway chose to preside over the meeting.
"We want Springfield to move forward. We want it to grow," he said. "We’ve had issues here, and I thought we were past those. Listen to what the judge said and heed it."
Northway left city hall immediately after the council meeting.