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Michael King loses motion to remove judge

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield will continue to preside over Clayton County Board of Education member Michael King's legal efforts to hold onto his school board seat.

Superior Court Judge Albert Collier decided on Monday that King had not provided an adequate reason to have Benefield recused from his case.

In July, King filed a motion, and a supporting affidavit, to oust Benefield as the presiding judge, alleging that she had "conspired" against him with School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson, and former school system attorney, Julie Lewis.

During a hearing on Monday afternoon, Judge Collier listened to arguments from King and attorneys for the school board, and its ethics commission, on whether to remove Benefield from the case. King offered no opening statement, did not explain the alleged conspiracy, and although he said he might call Benefield as a witness in the case pending before her, he never explained why he would.

"There is nothing proved in the affidavit that would justify Judge Benefield being called as a witness," Collier said. "Therefore, I do deny Mr. King's motion, and this case will be sent back to Judge Benefield's court for further proceedings."

King, who was elected in School Board District 4 last year in a special election, has been defending himself for the nearly 14 months he has held office. Within two months of his taking office, it was revealed that King was representing a former Clayton teacher in a federal lawsuit against the school system, and the school board.

He was first censured by the school board, and later ordered to be removed from office by the board's ethics commission, because he continued to be the teacher's attorney after he took office. King is allowed to remain on the school board as long as he is appealing the decision of the commission, and the board.

Since early April, King has pursued a judicial review case before Benefield, hoping to reverse the school board's decision to accept its ethics commission's decision to remove him from office. Benefield also heard, and dismissed, King's appeal of his censure last year.

King did not subpoena Benefield, Anderson or Lewis to testify before Collier about his claims of a conspiracy on Monday. When asked about his decision to not subpoena Anderson, Benefield or Lewis, King said he opted against it because he felt it would be harmful to the school board to do so. "It would have been disruptive to the school board, and I didn't want to go in that particular direction when I was subpoenaing witnesses," he said.

King's allegations against Benefield were "just a bit of a dog-and-pony show," according to Alex Barfield, who is representing the school board in the judicial review case. "We were given zero evidence about why Judge Benefield would be called as a witness," Barfield said.

As part of his ongoing legal battle to stay in office, King also filed a request for separate, injunctive relief in early March regarding his removal from office. That case was dismissed by Clayton County Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter in June, although King said he is in the process of appealing that decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.

When asked what will happen next, Barfield and ethics commission attorney Winston Denmark said they have already filed a motion to dismiss the case on the technical grounds that King filed a direct appeal of the school board's decision to uphold his removal from office, rather than a writ of certiorari, in August.

"A good lawyer would know the difference between a direct appeal, and a certiorari appeal," Denmark said. "The law says in this case, you should file a writ of certiorari, because you are essentially appealing an appeal."

King, however, offered two different plans for what he will do next. He said he filed a response to the motion to dismiss, and will ask Benefield to hear oral arguments on the merits of the case. However, he also said if the Georgia Supreme Court agrees to hear his appeal in the injunctive relief case, he may ask the state's highest court to issue a stay, to at least temporarily stop the proceedings in Benefield's court.

"I've got to decide whether to ask the Georgia Supreme court for a stay in this case, to give the supreme court an opportunity to rule in the injunctive relief case," King said.