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Split ethics board sides with county attorney

On a 2-1 vote, an ethics board has dismissed a detailed ethics complaint lodged against Scott Bennett, the in-house attorney who represents the Fayette County Commission.

Among other allegations, the complaint charged that Bennett colluded to have a Peachtree City-based attorney file a lawsuit against the county in federal court. Bennett told the ethics board that he did not conspire with attorney Rick Lindsey; rather that Lindsey had notified him he would file the lawsuit, which ironically sought to enforce an action approved by the commission in February: the formal adoption of a new five-district map to elect members to the county commission.

The lawsuit was not an adversarial one because the commission actually wanted the map to be adopted in time for the 2012 elections, Bennett noted.

The lawsuit was necessary because the Georgia legislature did not vote on the newly-drawn five-district map before the end of the legislative session in April, which meant the county faced having its elections this year on a map that had malapportioned districts based on population.

Bennett explained that he drafted a proposed complaint for Lindsey to file in federal court in an effort to save the county money. But he strongly denied that he recruited Lindsey to file the suit.

During his presentation attorney Wayne Kendall pointed to testimony from depositions in which two county commissioners indicated that Bennett had asked Lindsey to file the lawsuit. Bennett countered that neither of those commissioners, Steve Brown and Robert Horgan, were present when he had conversations about the lawsuit over the phone with Lindsey.

The ethics complaint also charged that Bennett improperly benefitted Lindsey by approving the payment of attorney’s fees in the case. Bennett, however, noted that not only were those fees ordered to be paid by the federal judge in the case, but also that he had not negotiated those fees, since they were part of the deal brokered with Lindsey and the private law firm representing the county in that lawsuit.

Bennett said while he agreed that the fees requested by Lindsey were “reasonable” he did not authorize the payment; instead the payment was negotiated by the private law firm’s attorney and then authorized in a court order.

Bennett said he signed off on an invoice to pay Lindsey’s fees because not to do so would in essence create a situation in which he was violating an order of the federal court judge in the case.

The two and a half hour hearing Wednesday was contentious at times as Kendall, who brought the complaint on behalf of two local residents, parried and sparred with Bennett.
At one point near the end of the evening though, the two came to some common ground. Bennett noted that he had gained no money or any other advantage from his actions in the matter, a point to which Kendall agreed.

The lone vote against dismissing the complaint came from ethics board member Dan Langford, who said he wanted to dismiss seven of the charges but take time to consider the other two, as the county ordinance allows up to 15 days for such considerations.

Shortly after, ethics board member Scott Rowland moved to dismiss the entire complaint based on insufficient evidence. Ethics board chair Sheila Huddleston joined Rowland in voting in favor of dismissing the entire complaint.



Robert W. Morgan's picture

I'm for a loser pays system and even though this wasn't an expensive lawsuit, it was a waste of everyone's time and I think lawyer Kendall should be slapped down somehow - maybe these 2 residents as well. What was their reason for pushing this? It is some more racial nonsense? This Kendall guy was involved with the NAACP wasn't he?

Updated Friday AM - So, I see in this AM's AJC that we have spent $225,000 fighting the NAACP and the district voting thing and it might wind up costing $1million and we are destined to lose anyway. Of course a liberal rag like the AJC is going to put that spin on the story that we are all a bunch of Jim Crow throwbacks in Fayette County, but there is a point to step back and reevaluate. Obviously the politicians who want to be reelected and have aspirations towards higher office (like Brown) cannot afford to take a liberal position in conservative Fayette County, so they won't be any help. So, instead of fighting district voting or even giving in and accepting district voting, why not try something new. Just give the NAACP what they want - a black county commissioner and a black school board member. Keep the at-large system in place and just designate one seat as black only. The Board of Elections can do this by themselves - no politicians need to be involved. Lawsuit goes away and that way everybody gets what they want - unless some of you truly are racist and if that is the case, I can't help.

So, why not one seat at the table reserved for blacks only? Fayette County is 20% black and 1 out of 5 seats is 20% of the total. What could be more fair? Somebody says that discriminates against whites? No it doesn't. No more than affirmative action does and that is the law of the land. Besides, whites have 4 other seats they can run for. Sometimes the simple solutions are best.

Live free or die!

I would tend to agree with Morgan on this one. There are really two issues here: (1) the electoral rights of a racial minority (2) the political concern that district voting will lead to commissioners that worry only about services in their part of the county. There are numerous other issues that are 400 years old but they are not part of the legal discussion.

Give them a district. When demographics change, they may be able, politically, to elect two blacks or maybe three. I don’t see the harm.

The harm is the extraordinary waste of time and money. We have an incompetent federal judge who does not pay attention to these issues and allows attorneys to excitedly swarm for fees defending this suit like catfish being fed fish pellets off of a deck of a restaurant bar. Lindsey and Bennett conspired to set the districts in this most recent suit. The lawsuit was prepared by the Atlanta firm. It was not even served on the county. It was settled less than two weeks after it was filed. The order for fees going to Lindsey (which Bennett and the county agreed to and paid) turns out was violative of the law. A lawyer can’t get fees when he represents himself. A local ethics board does not care? That’s not a surprise. They probably were not offended by Clinton’s adultery in the Oval Office. We expect the worst from our legal and political systems and that is precisely what we get.

What offends me the most is not all of these incompetent judges and lawyers. We have come to expect it. What offends me is the fact that the county is on track to waste a million dollars in this fight and, if they lose, another million in fees to the NAACP lawyers from New York City.

This is ridiculous and the first order of business of the new commission should be to end the bleeding.

In response to the unsupported comment that "a lawyer can't get fees when he represents himself," please note that in Georgia pro se attorney fees are allowed under Harkleroad v. Stringer, 231 Ga. App. 464, 468(1), 499 S.E.2d 379 (1998).

Sorry Helpful Lawyer-- this is a federal case. You cite Georgia law. See Massengale v. Ray, 267 F.3d
1298 (11th Cir. 2001). Mr. Lindsey has conceded the point apparently.

americanpatriots's picture

The hearing was about 2 ½ hours of total nonsense.

I have witnessed attorney ineptness before, but Wayne Kendall set a new standard last night.

After about 45 minutes of Kendall’s rambling and often-repeated oral arguments, he torpedoed his own case and then Bennett skillfully buried him.

If you had sat through that mind-numbing nonsense, you would have seen why the NAACP got rid of Kendall as council for their suit against Fayette County.

The ethics case was dismissed last night in a 2-1 vote and the judge dismissed Kendall’s open records request lawsuit this morning, 11/29/12.


Forget about Kendall...Below is the email that Attorney Lindsey sent to Attorney Bennett when they were trying to explain how it was that Bennett had prepared the lawsuit for Lindsey to file and how they put the right spin on it:

“The absolute last thing I [Lindsey] want to happen is for the judge to start asking me
questions and I [Lindsey] have no real ability to answer other that to point to you [Bennett] and say,
‘He [Bennett] made me do it’ :-)’”.

And no one is upset about this case ?

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