Testimony expected Tuesday in Forest Hill Road trial

mstucka@macon.comOctober 21, 2013 

A jury will soon begin hearing whether the Georgia Department of Transportation picked an appropriate design for Forest Hill Road.

Lindsay “Doc” Holliday is suing the state agency, claiming that it improperly selected an unsafe design for a road widening between Northside Drive and Wimbish Road. Holliday prefers a different design, and he said the state’s planned $8.4 million widening would destroy the environment.

An expected weeklong court proceeding started Monday morning, and jury selection is expected to be completed Tuesday morning.

Though Holliday’s legal filings hinge on a few words -- that the state’s selection of a design was “arbitrary and capricious” -- Bibb County Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis told prospective jurors that they’d be deciding whether there was any evidence to support the state’s design, and whether that design was reasonable and logical.

Holliday has been alone at his table in the courtroom. He let his legal team go earlier this month, when the road advocacy group CAUTION Macon ran out of money to pay them.

The transportation department is primarily represented by Macon attorneys John Draughon Sr. and M. Devlin Cooper, though other attorneys are present.

Much of Monday’s court proceedings involved just how much evidence -- and which evidence -- could be brought into court or mentioned during opening statements.

Before this week, both sides tried to agree on a basic set of facts they would stipulate, but Draughon said the list became long and argumentative.

“If you have to argue about it, they’re not stipulations,” Ennis said.

Ennis rejected a proposal by Holliday to use some diagrams in the case. Lawyers for the state said they included drawings not prepared by experts and showed a different section of Forest Hill Road, which is proposed as a separate, later and wider project.

Other fights over the evidence are likely. Cooper said Holliday’s exhibits can’t be verified against actual state drawings, and many of them are outdated.

“Many of his exhibits pertain to 2001 plans, and there have been revisions over the 12 remaining years,” Cooper said.

Holliday, a dentist, agreed that he won’t pretend to be a transportation expert during the trial, but he said people can judge safety.

“You don’t have to be a safety expert to know what feels safe. ... Human beings understand what’s safe intuitively. I would not testify as a safety expert,” he said.

Both sides also tangled over whether Holliday can introduce public opinion into the case. Ennis said evidence of public sentiment isn’t at issue in the courtroom. Holliday said he wanted to introduce public comments made as the Forest Hill Road widening plans were being developed.

Cooper argued that public input was never presented to the Georgia Department of Transportation. Holliday said the state agency has several seats on the region’s transportation planning agency, Macon Area Transportation Study.

Cooper said those comments were not used in the state’s portion of the design process.

Potential jurors weren’t able to be questioned until the middle of Monday afternoon because they were involved with another case. Those prospective jurors will return at 9 a.m. Tuesday, with jury selection beginning soon afterward. Witnesses may be on the stand by 10:30 a.m.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service