• 59°

Judge rules in favor of city in lawsuit

By BECKY CRISSMAN

becky.crissman@cordeledispatch.com

CORDELE — A judge with the Crisp County Superior Court ruled in favor of the City of Cordele in a lawsuit. The lawsuit, brought about by a private citizen, was over an issue of annexation of property in Wells Lake Subdivision. The judge ordered the plaintiff to pay the city’s attorney’s fees for their defense of the frivolous claim. 

A former candidate for Cordele City Commission, Roy Dale Jr. filed the lawsuit alleging the city improperly handled the annexation of property owned by Crisp County Board of Education Chairman Scott Forehand. The annexation was completed by city ordinance on July 2, 2013. Dale filed the action against the city on July 30, 2015. In the complaint, Dale alleged various Constitutional violations, arguing that the city was required to notify him of the annexation because he owns property on both sides of the annexed property. Since he was not notified of the annexation, Dale alleged it was illegal.

In the action filed by Dale he asked the court to rescind the annexation. He also asked that city commissioners be required to take a free college course on the Constitution of the United States offered by Hillsdale College offered online and a course on the Georgia State Constitution from the Cordele branch of Darton College.

Forehand inherited the property in question, and voluntarily requested the annexation. Under those circumstances, city ordinance does not require public notification of the annexation (O.C.G.A. 36-36-2). As long as the property touches the city the landowner is fully within their right to request the annexation.

Dale further accused the city of gerrymandering, which by definition, is to divide the constituencies of a voting area so as to give one party an unfair advantage. Dale alleged the city only approved the annexation in order for Forehand to retain his seat on the board of education thereby putting the politically weak segment of the community at a disadvantage, due to Forehand being a Republican.

At the beginning of the lawsuit, Attorney John C. Cotton, acting on behalf of the Cordele City Commission, drafted a letter to Dale advising him the lawsuit had no merit and the city intended to file a complaint with the court for the tort of abusive litigation. Pursuant to O.C.G.A. 51-7-82 this gives a plaintiff 30 days to withdraw a complaint. The letter advised Dale that if the city were forced to utilize taxpayer dollars to fight the frivolous claim that judgment would be sought to compensate.

Dale chose to proceed with the lawsuit, which went before Crisp County Superior Court Judge John Pridgen. It was the conclusion of the court that the lawsuit was in fact frivolous, with a “complete absence of any justiciable issue of law or fact.” Judgment was awarded to the City of Cordele in the amount of $6,027.75. Just after the judge’s order Dale contacted the Cotton’s office and advised that the city would never collect anything from him.

“I did not expect to win in Cordele,” said Dale. “I will be appealing the ruling to the state level and if need be, the federal level.”

Cotton says the city will continue to fight the frivolous claims and could possibly be awarded further judgments for additional attorney fees as they accrue during the process.