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Judge mulling action in Forest Park motion

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Forest Park attorney Joe Harris addresses the court Monday as attorneys (l-r) Richard Carothers and Angela Couch listen. With them to the right is Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Forest Park attorney Joe Harris addresses the court Monday as attorneys (l-r) Richard Carothers and Angela Couch listen. With them to the right is Forest Park Mayor David Lockhart.

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield heard from lawyers on both sides Monday morning in a dispute over the May 6 firing of Forest Park's city attorneys.

In a legal twist, Benefield was also set Monday to hear from those fired attorneys in a motion for legal fees in an unrelated case. Robert Mack and Joe Harris successfully defended the city against Galardi Enterprises, a corporation that owns several strip clubs, including two closed in 2011 by Forest Park officials.

Mack and Harris sought attorneys fees in light of the success against the clubs. The city has prevailed in 13 of 15 suits filed by the clubs, said City Manager John Parker at a city council meeting Monday night. Two suits are still outstanding.

Benefield said the termination matter needs to be resolved before the determination of attorneys fees.

"I don't see how I can hear this until I decide who represents Forest Park," she said.

Harris offered that he'd filed an affidavit on behalf of the city and wouldn't necessarily need to be directly involved. Benefield said that wouldn't work either.

"I don't think you can determine that for the city of Forest Park," she said. "They're entitled to know who their lawyer is."

Attorneys for the corporation sat through the termination motion hearing and agreed with Benefield.

Mack and Harris contend they were appointed officers and therefore could only be terminated for one of six reasons outlined in the city charter. They also dispute the city council's 3-1 vote firing them, and argue that they were entitled to an investigative hearing.

City council members appointed Richard Carothers of Buford to represent them on the motion. Carothers argued that the attorneys don't have a case.

"These things happen, city attorneys get replaced," he said. "That's the nature of the beast."

Benefield told the attorneys she would issue a ruling as quickly as possible.

The May 6 termination created a firestorm among residents who wanted to know why it was done the way it was. Councilwoman Latresa Akins asked to add an agenda item.

"I would like to add item '4a' to reconsider the city attorneys," said Akins. "We've been discussing change, we have a new mayor and I think we should give you the tools to work with. I'd like to ask council to consider other firms."

The announcement stunned the chamber audience and Mayor Pro Tem Linda Lord, who asked for time to discuss the issue. Her request went unheeded as Lockhart called for a motion, a second and a vote while she continued to protest. Lord cast the sole dissenting vote.