Judge bounces Mabra from Democrat primary ballot
Attorney Ronnie Mabra’s attempt at being elected in the race for the new District 63 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives has been gaveled out of order.
Administrative Law Judge Stephanie M. Howells with the Office of State Administrative Hearings on Monday ordered that Mabra’s name be removed from the July 31 ballot because he could not prove he lives in the new district that includes portions of Fayette, Clayton and south Fulton counties. Remaining in what is now a two-way race are paralegal Linda Pritchett and school teacher T.J. Copeland.
Pritchett had challenged Mabra’s qualifications, contending that he did not live in the district and, subsequently, did not meet the requirements for the office.
For his part, Mabra in responding to the announcement said Judge Howells merely offered a recommendation to the Ga. Secretary of State, who ultimately has the power to uphold his candidacy or deny it.
"The Administrative Law Judge made the wrong decision, but I'm confident that the Secretary of State will side with me. The Secretary of State has not ruled on my case, and I'll continue running until the voters of District 63 have an opportunity to elect their representative," Mabra said. "I've always maintained that these charges were baseless and politically motivated efforts by my opponents to distract the voters. While my opponents were on a wild goose chase, I've spent every day meeting with residents, raising campaign funds, and offering a positive vision for my community that includes better schools, safer streets and more jobs."
Mabra in his declaration of candidacy said he had been a legal resident of Fayette County for 30 consecutive years. Yet the court found that after marrying his wife Dawn in 2007 he moved from Fayetteville into an Atlanta condo that he owned and remained in residence there until late 2010. Mabra acknowledged that he took a homestead exemption on the condo in 2006 when he was not living there, court documents said.
The condo was going into foreclosure in late 2010, at which time the couple moved in with his mother in Fayetteville. He previously bought the house from his parents in 2006 and had sold it to his mother in 2010. The Fayetteville property on Sept. 27, 2011 was put in Mabra’s name as a co-owner, according to court documents.
In July 2011 Dawn Mabra purchased an Atlanta property on State Street that she uses as an office and as a place to spend the night several days a week and where she said her husband spends the night, documents said. Mabra’s law office is a short distance away.
Dawn Mabra also supplied her employer with the State Street address as her contact address rather than the Fayetteville address, court documents maintain.
“(Mabra) testified that he gets back and forth to Fayetteville by driving the firm vehicle or his mother picks him up. Mrs. Mabra testified that she carpools with her husband from Fayetteville or they take both cars to Fayetteville. When explaining why both their cars may be parked at the State Street Property and they may not be there, one explanation provided by Mrs. Mabra was that she may be carpooling with people to her church,” court documents said.
Along with other evidence presented, the court upheld Pritchett’s challenge, ruling that Mabra did not meet the qualification for the office that requires that he live in the district for at least one year.
“Respondent admitted that the Fayetteville property was placed back in his name on September 27, 2011, for ‘trust and estate type issues.’ Thus, the part ownership of that property does not necessarily indicate that he lives there. This is also supported by the fact that he admits that he has owned other property in which he did not live. Accordingly, the (judge) assigns little, if any, weight (to Mabra’s) partial ownership of the Fayetteville Property,” the court said.
“Finally, (Mabra) provided no real explanation as to why he and his relatively new wife would choose to live in Fayetteville with his mother, when his wife owns, and spends most of her time at, a renovated house a couple blocks away from his office. Weighing the evidence in this matter, including the credibility of the witnesses, the undersigned concludes that Respondent failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he actually resides within District 63,” the judge said.
A result of legislative reapportionment after the 2010 Census, the newly created District 63 spans much of northeast and east central Fayette County and includes portions of Fayetteville and areas immediately to the west of the city. The district also includes south Clayton County and portions of College Park and the unincorporated areas south of the city in south Fulton County.