Enzor called to join Phillips trial

Published 11:08 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

Special Judge Lee Enzor has been added as a defendant in the Covington County Commission’s civil case against ousted Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips, a move that will delay trying the case at least 60 days.

Circuit Judge Bert Rice of Escambia County was appointed to hear the civil case, filed in June 2007, after local judges recused themselves.

The county filed the lawsuit last summer after Phillips refused to reinstate chief clerk Patricia Gunter, whom Phillips terminated in March of 2007. Phillips claimed that Gunter was insubordinate when she delivered a certified letter ordering the garnishment of Judge Phillips’ wages to the county’s personnel office without Phillips’ knowledge.

Gunter appealed her case to the county’s personnel review board, which recommended she be reinstated. The county commission upheld the personnel board’s decision in May, but Phillips refused to rehire her, stating that state law allows her to hire and fire her own chief clerk.

In its suit, the county asked the court to declare its personnel manual valid and require Phillips to follow its policies and procedures. At Judge Rice’s request, Gunter, who is represented by John Peek, has since been added as a party to the suit.

The case was scheduled to be tried next week, but at a hearing in early August, Rice questioned whether the case could proceed without Enzor as a party to the case.

Rice said he is unclear whether Enzor, in the role of part-time special judge, has the authority to hire and fire clerks in his office. He also said Enzor cannot be forced by the judge to reinstate Gunter if Enzor is not a party to the case.

Enzor said in an interview with The Star-News after that hearing that, he wasn’t inclined to join the case. However, when the county’s attorney presented Judge Rice with a motion to add Enzor as a defendant last week, Rice immediately signed it.

Enzor told the court he has a conflict next week. Legally, he is entitled to 60 days to prepare for trial once he is added as a defendant.

Enzor was appointed special judge of probate after Phillips was indicted in June on six counts of theft and ethics violations by a Covington County grand jury. Alabama law does not allow a judge under indictment to continue to serve. While she is not serving as judge, she still receives full pay and will continue to be paid unless officially removed from office.