City lawsuit will proceed

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A federal judge denied Wednesday the request for a default judgment against the city and its procurement director.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge W. Leon Barfield wrote that the lawsuit filed by the Association for Fair Government and three local business owners against the city and director Geri Sams should be tried on its merits.

The lawsuit alleges the city's purchasing practices are unfair to some and that rules and requirements are ignored for others.

The city has denied the allegations and challenged the plaintiffs' right to bring suit.

The city's law department didn't answer the lawsuit, however, until two days after the court's deadline for doing so, a delay that prompted plaintiffs' attorney Robert Mullins to file a motion for default.

"... An answer to the complaint was not timely filed ... because of an inadvertent failure of Mayor (Deke) Copenhaver to forward a copy of the complaint to the Law Department," the judge quoted from the city's belated answer.

"The reason for the failure to timely file an answer on behalf of defendant Sams is less clear, as general counsel for the law department avers that she was aware that Ms. Sams had been served with the complaint," the judge noted.

General Counsel Chiquita Johnson wrote in an affidavit to the court that she was instructed on Feb. 19 to take over the city's defense to the lawsuit.

In denying the default action -- which could have cost the city the case, Judge Barfield wrote that federal courts have a lenient standard when it comes to accepting reasons for defendants who miss the deadline to answer lawsuits and avoid default.

He wrote that there was no evidence the city intentionally ignored the deadline or exhibited a pattern of disregard for court rules, and that the plaintiffs have not shown any prejudice they would suffer if not granted a default judgment.

"Lastly, a lawsuit of this magnitude and import should be decided on the merits, not a procedural machination," he wrote.

Judge Barfield chided the plaintiffs' attorney for not telling the city attorneys they were in danger of default, and for seeking permission to depose the mayor and former city attorney before trying to resolve the issue without court intervention.

With the issue of a default judgment settled, the case will proceed, court officials said.

Normal procedures in such cases usually include the exchange of questions and answers between the parties, motion hearings to set the scope of admissible evidence, requests from the defense for summary judgment or dismissal, settlement negotiations and trial.

The judge typically works with the attorneys on both sides to set deadlines for these steps. No specific timelines have been announced.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (25) Add comment
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DeborahElliott2
4
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DeborahElliott2 03/20/08 - 04:07 am
0
0
Well, this is a step in the

Well, this is a step in the right direction.

justus4
105
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justus4 03/20/08 - 04:55 am
0
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Good decision judge. The city
Unpublished

Good decision judge. The city will win this one because the merits are clear regarding procurement. In fact, this group was counting on a default judgement because their argument is so flawed. They probably will end up running for the tall grass, because documents may prove that collusion was a factor. Stay tuned...

mutt
2
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mutt 03/20/08 - 05:12 am
0
0
Documents will more likely

Documents will more likely prove that racial favoritism is used in accepting bids, and that numerous people have been using the procurment department as a piggy bank to take money from almost at will. Sams was either complicate or strong armed. Judging by her reaction to the suite, I'ld say complicate.

Reality
3
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Reality 03/20/08 - 05:21 am
0
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This whole ordeal really

This whole ordeal really makes a mockery of our system. It isn't a secret that the county favors minority contractors. The judge lets defendants file paperwork as they choose. I wonder what would have happened if you or I just disregarded what a judge told us to do....complaisant

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 03/20/08 - 07:11 am
0
0
This was the only decision

This was the only decision the judge could make, but it seems like Ms Johnson just dropped the ball. How many more times will the judge feel this is a reason for not following the rule of law? This suit may take many years to settle if this action sets a president.

bullet40
0
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bullet40 03/20/08 - 07:44 am
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It will take awhile, but I do

It will take awhile, but I do believe Sams and jhonson should start packing a bag. Sams might need to pack an "extended stay" bag.

Reality
3
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Reality 03/20/08 - 07:50 am
0
0
bullet40, that will never

bullet40, that will never happen. They will stay in their job with a promotion or be let go with a huge severance package. ie. Teresa Smith, Charles Larke. Ronnie Few....

TommyBoy
0
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TommyBoy 03/20/08 - 08:12 am
0
0
Judge helped you out

Judge helped you out Chiquita. Just remember to count days twice, be absolutely certain of your count, put the last day on your calendar, and don't wait until the absolute last day to file ANYTHING. Consider this a learning experience.

ripjones
2
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ripjones 03/20/08 - 08:20 am
0
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The real problem is that even

The real problem is that even when they try to "help" the minority contractors, they get shafted. Case in point, is the demolition of the candy factory. They did not accept the lowest bid, but gave the job to a higher-priced minority contractor. The Commission, ala Marion Williams, figured that they would get some of the money back from tipping fees to the Richmond County Landfill. Problem was, they only had a "gentlemans agreement", and the minority contractor found that tipping fees in McDuffie County were cheaper. That's where he disposed of the demolition products, because the city DID NOT HAVE ANYTHING IN THE CONTRACTUAL AGREEMENT, signed by the minority contractor. The real problem that I have with the whole thing, is that Marion Williams and his minions, did not come back and say they made a mistake. And the City/County got screwed.

bullet40
0
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bullet40 03/20/08 - 08:28 am
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Reaity, unfortunately, you

Reaity, unfortunately, you are probably correct!

rufus
2
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rufus 03/20/08 - 09:25 am
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I thought Chiquita was a

I thought Chiquita was a banana

mastercraft78
0
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mastercraft78 03/20/08 - 09:30 am
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I think that Sams is going to

I think that Sams is going to be embarrassed when this goes to court.

GuyIncognito
1
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GuyIncognito 03/20/08 - 09:38 am
0
0
Looks like Ms. Johnson gets

Looks like Ms. Johnson gets to keep her job for another day...

Soplar
0
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Soplar 03/20/08 - 09:43 am
0
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Seems to me it is malpractice

Seems to me it is malpractice to notify the other attorney that they are in default. Was I the client, I would be extremely mad at the lost chance for potential victory.

Anyone know if there is a requirement to notify the other attorney?

Tall1
1
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Tall1 03/20/08 - 09:48 am
0
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The idea of the plaintiffs

The idea of the plaintiffs notifying the defendants of an upcoming deadline is ludicrous. The judge erred. This case should've been adjucated in favor of plaintiff. Let you or I do the SAME THING and we'd be in jail.

brownskin30434
2
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brownskin30434 03/20/08 - 09:49 am
0
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Mutt, do you mean complicit?

Mutt, do you mean complicit?

jack
10
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jack 03/20/08 - 09:50 am
0
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PT, the word is precedent.

PT, the word is precedent. Not president as we ain't electing anyone, Anyhow, g'day to you!

brownskin30434
2
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brownskin30434 03/20/08 - 09:52 am
0
0
Patriciathomas, do you mean

Patriciathomas, do you mean precedent?

gijoe7898
0
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gijoe7898 03/20/08 - 09:52 am
0
0
Wish I had that judge in my

Wish I had that judge in my divorce. Would have loved a merit based decision vs "machinations" of procedure. Any other instance, failure to comply with the court's rulings are called contempt. "i didn't know the date" is a poor excuse from a lawyer.

jack
10
Points
jack 03/20/08 - 09:54 am
0
0
Tall1, the word is

Tall1, the word is adjudicated. Perhaps Judge Barfield like bananas :-)

jack
10
Points
jack 03/20/08 - 09:56 am
0
0
As I have said before on this

As I have said before on this subject, going to federal court will wash that dirty laundry found in your County government. Sams may just need to pack that bag for a long stay.

WHATDIDIDO
0
Points
WHATDIDIDO 03/20/08 - 11:39 am
0
0
Contracts favor minorities?

Contracts favor minorities? You have got to be kidding or on drugs.

bullet45cal
0
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bullet45cal 03/20/08 - 12:14 pm
0
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Only in Augusta, hippo.

Only in Augusta, hippo.

john
1057
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john 03/20/08 - 02:34 pm
0
0
I dont know much about the

I dont know much about the procurement departement, but it does seem sad that the attorney throws the mayor under the bus instead of taking responsibility.

Window Shopper
0
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Window Shopper 03/20/08 - 06:12 pm
0
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Since when is it the

Since when is it the responsibility of the plaintiff to notify the defendant that they are in danger of default ? That's what the default is for, if they don't respond, you win ! The judge should never allow the defendant to wiggle out from a deadline. They knew it, they are lawyers, and should have responded. And besides, you know they are guilty of rigging the processes. Am I the only one that noticed how quick the candy factory came down and how slow the judicial center is going up....uh....being planned ?

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 03/20/08 - 08:08 pm
0
0
precedent, precedent,

precedent, precedent, precedent, o.k., got it. I have to stop posting and running without proof reading. My spelling is way too bad to attempt arrogant confidence.

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