Federal judge slaps attorney’s attempt to reopen county vote lawsuit

A federal court judge has rebuffed an attempt to re-open consideration of the new district voting map that was approved by court action in May for the five seats on the Fayette County Commission.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. ruled that intervenors Ali and Aisha Abdur-Rahman waited too long to file their motion to intervene, and also that they failed to state an injury due to the new map.

Specifically, the court pointed out that neither of the defendants, who are African-American, stated they are currently seeking office as a county commissioner or they would would run for such office in the future.

“Consequently, they have not shown a prospective injury that is real, immediate and direct,” Batten wrote.

Moreover, Judge Batten in his Oct. 9 order suggests that the Abdur-Rahmans’ attorney, Wayne Kendall, may have violated a federal rule that prevents attorneys from filing any pleading or motion “for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay or needlessly increase the cost of litigation.”

The motions filed on behalf of the Abdur-Rahmans “strongly suggest to this Court that they have violated Rule 11(b) by presenting their motions to harass the parties in this case, presenting legal contentions that are not supported by existing law or nonfrivolous argument, and relying on factual contentions that do not have evidentiary support. Thus, the Court is inclined to sanction Intervenors and their counsel by requiring them to pay the parties in this case their costs in responding” to the motions.

Batten notes that before the court can sanction the Abdur-Rahmans or attorney Kendall, federal rules require him to give them a reasonable opportunity to respond. He set a deadline of Oct. 23 for that response and a final deadline of Nov. 6 for all parties to file a response brief.

In the order, Batten points out that the county has already conducted a primary and subsequent runoff election under the new map and is close to completing a general election also using the new five-district map. Because of those facts, the county would suffer “extreme prejudice” if the intervenors were allowed to re-open the case, Batten wrote.

The five-district map was originally adopted in February by the Fayette County Commission but it failed to be considered in time prior to the close of the legislative session. In May, Peachtree City-based attorney Rick Lindsey filed the federal lawsuit against the commission seeking to install the five-district map on the basis that the former three-district map had a severe population imbalance.

Lindsey and the county entered a consent order that was approved quickly by the court in time for the new county map to receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department for use in this year’s elections.

Batten’s Oct. 9 order to deny the motion to intervene was also critical of the allegations that contended Lindsey somehow colluded with County Attorney Scott Bennett to file the lawsuit to work out in the county’s favor.

“However, despite all of their puffery and excessive verbiage on this topic, intervenors’ bluster distills to an argument that there was never a case of controversy and thus the district court did not have jurisdiction over the original case and should not have approved the unlawful consent decree,” Batten wrote.

Batten also cited case law that rejected the collusion allegation as “unparticularlized harm.”

While the new map is now currently being enforced, there is a potential for a future change depending on the outcome of a second and separate federal lawsuit filed against the commission and the Fayette County Board of Education.

The lawsuit, filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and several local residents, seeks a significant change in how local elections are conducted for the county commission and the board of education.

The lawsuit asks the court to enforce district voting, in which all county voters would be limited to vote for just one person on each governing body. That’s in stark contrast to the current at-large election basis, upon which each voter in the county can vote on all five seats on the county commission and board of education.

The NAACP’s reasoning in favor of the district voting is that it would make it far easier for black residents in Fayette County to elect a “candidate of their choosing” to the county commission and board of education.

The NAACP and the Fayette County Board of Education had initially brokered a consent map in the case, but the county commission, listed as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, opposed the map on the basis that it did not create a majority-minority district.

The NAACP and other plaintiffs argued that they only needed to prove such a map could be drawn, and that they were not required by law to have such a map be the final product. However, that argument failed earlier this summer as Batten noted they were unable to cite any case law allowing such a variation.

The district voting lawsuit is on track to be resolved later this year.