A superior court judge has dismissed some aspects, but denied dismissal of others, in the lawsuit filed against the city and its top leadership by Marshal Greg Countryman and Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton-Bishop.
In a ruling handed down last week, Stone Mountain Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller Jr. dismissed the claims against Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, City Manager Isaiah Hugley, Deputy City Manager Pam Hodge,, City Attorney Clifton Fay and nine of the 10 sitting members of Columbus Council in their official capacity. They remain defendants in their individual capacities.
Tomlinson said the city intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Georgia, as it did when Fuller handed down a similar ruling in similar lawsuits filed by Sheriff John Darr and Superior Court Clerk Linda Pierce.
The four elected officials filed suits against the city and its leadership last year over what they contend is an illegal budgeting process carried out by the executive and legislative branches of the Consolidated Government.
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The attorneys for Countryman and Bishop, Christopher Balch and Charles Miller, issued a statement portraying Hilton’s recent ruling as a victory for the plaintiffs.
“The dismissal of the official capacity injunctive claims was actually in our suggested order,” the statement read. “We based that on a case that currently appears to warrant it but we have reserved the right to challenge that as we move forward. We are pleased that the Judge preserved all of our other claims and look forward to conducting robust discovery and a successful outcome at trial.”
Tomlinson took a different view of the ruling, saying that the city had to prevail in order to get some things dismissed while the plaintiffs had only to “survive.”
“We had to win,” she said. “They only had to survive.”
Tomlinson said discovery will not proceed as long as the case is under appeal to a higher court, and that she hopes the city’s appeal in all three cases will be heard together during the Supreme Court’s fall session, which runs from August through December.
“Bottom line, in very large part, all four of these plaintiffs have dismissed parts of their lawsuiits, then had the courts dismiss parts of their lawsuits and now we are appealing the little bit that remains in all of these lawsuits,” Tomlinson said. “We’re very confident on all the issues. We go into the Supreme Court in a very strong position.”
Tomlinson also said the city intends to move forward immediately with its counter-claim against Countryman and Bishop to recover attorney fees the city contends they paid by using city-issued credit cards, which violates city regulations.
“The only thing that will go forward (in Superior Court) at this time will be our counter-claim for the $15,000 against the marshal and municipal clerk,” Tomlinson said.
In their statement, Balch and Miller said the city’s continuing to fight the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money.
“This ruling sends a clear signal to council that this costly litigation is going to continue until such time as they bring this mayor and her quixotic quest under control,” the statement reads.