Attorney clash turns ugly in vote lawsuit

Collusion, bribery charges lobbed at attorneys in settlement over commission district seats

Attorneys on both sides of a federal lawsuit over Fayette County’s new court-ordered five-district map for seats on the county commission are taking shots at each other.

Plaintiff’s attorney Wayne Kendall contends that County Attorney Scott Bennett and private practice attorney Richard Lindsey of Peachtree City colluded to file litigation against the county to have a federal judge enforce the redrawn map.

Bennett and Lindsey have denied that allegation, and now Kendall himself is faced with allegations of impropriety involving a negotiating tactic that County Attorney Bennett likened to bribery.

In recent court filings, attorneys representing the county allege that Kendall threatened to take action in the district map suit if the county didn’t approve a school board district map proposed to settle a lawsuit filed against the Fayette County Board of Education by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several Fayette residents.

Furthermore, Kendall is accused of threatening to file bar complaints and legal sanctions to force a settlement in a separate case in the district voting case filed by the NAACP, according to court declarations filed by county consulting attorneys Frank B. Strickland and Bryan P. Tyson of the law firm Strickland, Brockington and Lewis.

Tyson’s declaration also noted that County Attorney Scott Bennett said he considered Kendall’s threat as “bribery” since Kendall wanted Bennett to persuade the county commission to take a course of action in a separate legal case.

Tyson also notes that NAACP Attorney Ryan Haygood ultimately apologized for the threats made by Kendall.

Kendall was originally an attorney in the NAACP’s district voting lawsuit but has since been removed from the case, though it is not known if this removal was related to his conduct or because he needed to do so in order to file the motion to intervene in the separate federal lawsuit over the county’s five-district voting map.

In the new court filings in the federal case over the five-district commission map, Kendall alleges that depositions taken from Commissioners Steve Brown and Robert Horgan serve as proof that County Attorney Bennett asked Lindsey to file the federal lawsuit against the county.

In regards to the county’s new district map, a federal court judge approved it in March after an attempt to have it adopted by the legislature failed. The new map was approved by a 3-1 commission vote on Valentine’s Day in an effort to balance the population in the five districts, as the commission rushed the process in hopes of legislative adoption.

When that failed, Lindsey filed suit against the county in federal court so the new five-district map would be in effect in time for the July primary election.

Kendall has taken issue with how quickly that case was resolved, but the fact is that Lindsey and the county both agreed: that the new five-district map should replace the older three-district map which had varying populations in each district. Lindsey filed the suit claiming that the populations of each of the three previous districts had become so out of kilter that it diluted his voting strength.

“This lawsuit was not ‘manufactured’ but was filed to correct a problem with malapportionment in my county of residence,” Lindsey wrote in a letter to Kendall.

The controversy between at-large and district voting is being played out in a separate federal lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several county residents. That suit seeks to replace at-large voting with district voting on the theory that district voting makes it easier for a minority candidate to be elected to office.

That lawsuit has stalled because a federal court judge in May denied a motion to enforce district voting for this year’s elections based on the fact that the proposed map for seats on the county board of education did not create a district in which there would be a majority population of voting age minority residents. Instead, the district with the highest voting-age population of minorities only reaches 46.2 percent.

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