Circuit Judge John Thomason recused himself from the lawsuit and the case was reassigned to Circuit Judge Brian Howell, who was out of the office Thursday.
Attorney Joel Laird, who is representing the police organization in the lawsuit, said he didn’t know how long it would take to reschedule.
“Every one of those judges is extremely busy,” Laird said. “The system is stretched and I know that the calendars are very busy and the dockets are very crowded already.”
Thomason filed the recusal Thursday morning in response to a request filed by Little’s attorney that he remove himself as judge on the lawsuit because of possible bias from both Thomason and his judicial assistant. However, he denied that he would not have been objective.
Thomason said he thought his views of Little were realistic and the same as most people who followed the local news.
“I always try to set aside my personal feelings in order to apply the law to the facts in every case that I consider. This case would be no different,” Thomason wrote in his response. “Nevertheless, I am reluctantly stepping aside.”
He added the feelings of his judicial assistant were irrelevant.
Little was pleased that Thomason had passed the lawsuit on to another judge.
“I think he’s to be commended for doing so,” Little said.
Little went on to say he didn’t think that attorney Laird could legally represent the police group. Laird was the judge in a lawsuit Little filed against the city in 2001 after police officers interrupted his church service while responding to a bomb threat. That lawsuit, which was decided in favor of the city, was mentioned in the complaint filed by the police organization.
“He was the judge that dismissed the case and I think it’s unlawful for him to even be the attorney to talk about that case,” Little said. “Since he has it in the lawsuit, they’re going to have to prove some things and he will be called to testify.”
Laird said the other case was not an issue.
“We’re not using that case as any allegation or any grounds in this complaint,” Laird said.
The 2001 lawsuit was mentioned as one reason Little might have issues with the department.
The police organization filed the lawsuit against Little and former Councilman John Spain in Nov. 2011. The case alleges the two launched a “continual pattern and practice of harassment, intimidation, bullying defamation, negligence, recklessness, wantonness and malice” against the Anniston Police Department.
Many of the incidents in the complaint took place during a City Council inquiry into alleged corruption at City Hall and in the Anniston Police Department. Other incidents involved appearances by Little on a cable talk show, “In the Interest of the People,” and at other events.
Spain resigned his seat on the council and was subsequently dismissed from the lawsuit.
Thomason called the motion, filed Wednesday, the day of a hearing, a delay tactic.
“It appears that this motion was filed at the last minute in order to delay, yet again, this case from proceeding,” Thomason wrote.
Wednesday was the second scheduled hearing for the case. The first hearing was Dec. 19, to discuss a violation of the Open Meetings Act. That hearing was rescheduled because of a misstatement on the summons. The summons gave Little and Spain 30 days to respond. The Open Meetings Act, though, allows only seven days for an initial response.
That hearing was postponed for more than three months until Wednesday and now it will take even longer for the police organization and its members to have their day in court.
Anniston Police Chief Layton McGrady said he wasn’t worried about the delay. He was confident about the case, no matter what judge presides over it.
“It doesn’t bother me one bit,” McGrady said.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.