Judge recuses herself from Gwinnett commissioner’s ‘racist pig’ suit


More than a year after Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter’s initial Facebook posts calling a civil rights leader and sitting congressman a “racist pig,” the legal battle over his public reprimand continues.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner voluntarily recused herself from handling any further proceedings in the Hunter case, an ongoing civil lawsuit in which the commissioner is challenging the constitutionality of the ethics board that recommended his reprimand last summer. Conner’s recusal comes less than two weeks before a hearing that would have weighed Hunter’s ability to appeal previous rulings to Georgia’s Supreme Court — and amid accusations that her office had improper out-of-court communication with attorneys representing Gwinnett County in the case.

MORE13 controversial Facebook posts from Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter

The hearing, in which the county would have argued for the dismissal of Hunter’s attempted appeal to the Supreme Court, was canceled. It will be up to the new judge in the case, Randy Rich, to decide if another one should be scheduled.

Conner had handled Hunter’s lawsuit since it was filed last May, about four months after Hunter called U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig” on Facebook.

According to documents, an associate of Ken Jarrard, the primary attorney representing Gwinnett, reached out to a clerk in Conner’s office earlier this month. He asked why the record of the Hunter case had already been sent to the Georgia Supreme Court while the county was still trying to fight the commissioner’s appeal of the initial ruling, which shot down Hunter’s claims.

Conner ultimately scheduled an April 3 hearing on the county’s motion to dismiss Hunter’s appeal and issued an order to stop the Supreme Court from docketing the case there until the hearing was held.

In the same letter in which Jarrard had asked Conner to “claw back” the court record, he admitted that his associate’s contact with the clerk should have come in the form of a letter that included Hunter’s attorney as a recipient or in court with that attorney, Dwight Thomas, present.

After Jarrard informed of the interactions, Thomas sent a letter asking Conner to remove herself from the case. 

It was not immediately clear this week if Rich, the new Gwinnett judge on the case, would schedule a hearing regarding the county’s motion to dismiss the Hunter team’s appeal.

As of Friday morning, the Hunter case was not listed on the Georgia Supreme Court’s online docket.

Hunter’s legal team has argued that the ethics board that investigated his Facebook posts and ultimately recommended his reprimand was unconstitutional because some of its members are appointed by non-elected entities. The county has argued that the ethics board is legal because it is merely a recommending body and Hunter’s colleagues on the Board of Commissioners could have chosen to punish — or not punish — him in any way it chose.

Hunter has also threatened to file a separate federal lawsuit against his fellow commissioners over his reprimand, which was read publicly at a commission meeting, posted on the courthouse bulletin board and published in the Gwinnett Daily Post, the county’s legal organ. In a formal lawsuit-threatening notice filed in November, Hunter demanded $5 million in compensation.

As of Friday morning, no federal suit had been filed.

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

 

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Gwinnett politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Truck hit by train after getting stuck on tracks outside Vinings restaurant
Truck hit by train after getting stuck on tracks outside Vinings restaurant

A pickup truck was hit by a train outside a train-themed restaurant in Vinings Tuesday evening, police confirmed. The truck’s driver got his vehicle stuck on the railroad track in the parking lot of Orient Express at 2921 Paces Ferry Road, Cobb County police spokesman Wayne Delk told AJC.com. Orient Express is a Chinese, sushi and hibachi...
Carjacking in NW Atlanta prompts police chase that injures bicyclist
Carjacking in NW Atlanta prompts police chase that injures bicyclist

One person is in custody and one is on the run in northwest Atlanta after a police chase that left a bicyclist injured Tuesday night, authorities said. Two men are accused of carjacking someone near Spring Street and 10th Street, prompting a brief chase with police, Atlanta police spokeswoman Stephanie Brown said. At some point during the chase, a...
DeKalb voters complain of election issues as county certifies votes
DeKalb voters complain of election issues as county certifies votes

In less than 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon, the DeKalb County Elections Board certified its midterm election results, touted their hard work and listened to questions and complaints from residents about the election process. But hours after the meeting, a “technical glitch” prevented the certified numbers from being posted to the ...
Amazon headquarters decision: It’s not Atlanta
Amazon headquarters decision: It’s not Atlanta

In the end, Georgia didn’t convince Amazon that Atlanta is the best location for its second headquarters. Or even the second best. The Seattle-based tech giant made it official Tuesday, announcing that it will split its proposed $5 billion HQ2 project into two operations. One will be in New York’s Long Island City in Queens and the other...
Atlanta eyes regulation of booming electric scooter business
Atlanta eyes regulation of booming electric scooter business

To supporters, they’re an inventive, convenient way to get around the city without much of a carbon footprint. To critics, they’re critters that litter Atlanta’s sidewalks, posing a danger to pedestrians, drivers and the people who use them. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, those dockless scooters that popped up around Atlanta...
More Stories