A judge has reinstated a temporary restraining order that suspends Gordon Mayor Mary Ann Whipple-Lue from office for 30 days.
Robert Reeves, a Superior Court judge for the Middle Judicial Circuit, issued the order early Thursday afternoon after hearing testimony in Swainsboro. Reeves was assigned the case after Wilkinson County judges disqualified themselves.
A hearing is scheduled for July 22 to determine if Whipple-Lue can return to office before a final disposition is reached in the case.
Neither Whipple-Lue nor her attorney, Wayne Kendall, attended Thursday’s hearing.
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Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Kendall maintained that the hearing was held illegally because the Georgia Court of Appeals had barred Reeves from continuing to handle the case.
“We’re going to get it reversed,” he said. “We’re asking the Court of Appeals to sanction everybody, including the judge.”
Kendall said he was on his way to file an emergency appeal with the Court of Appeals.
He filed an emergency motion June 19 alleging that Reeves is biased. Kendall also contended that the judge didn’t have the authority to issue a prior restraining order June 2 because a previous decision in the case was being appealed. The court granted Kendall’s motion June 20.
On Wednesday, the court denied a motion for reconsideration filed by Devlin Cooper, a lawyer representing a group seeking to remove the mayor from office. In the ruling, the court did say that the trial court still had jurisdiction for matters not covered by Kendall’s initial appeal.
On Thursday, Kendall said he interpreted the ruling to still bar Reeves from ruling on a temporary restraining order since it was part of his appeal.
Kendall said he received notice of Thursday’s hearing about 4 p.m. Wednesday. He was unable to attend because he was already scheduled to be in court for another case 165 miles away.
He maintained the hearing was scheduled in such a way to ensure that Whipple-Lue wouldn’t have an attorney present.
The law requires 10 days’ notice of a hearing unless there’s an emergency, Kendall said.
“What’s the emergency?” he asked. “This is absurd.”
Cooper said the law doesn’t require such notice for a temporary restraining order proceeding.
Whipple-Lue’s first suspension was sought amid allegations that the mayor had voted in a City Council meeting in a manner not allowed by the city’s charter.
Had Thursday’s hearing not been held, she would have returned to office because her prior suspension expired late Wednesday afternoon. With Friday as a holiday, Thursday was the last opportunity to have a judge consider the matter before Gordon’s next City Council meeting Monday, when the mayor would be presiding, Cooper said.
He said he is scheduled to be in trial for two weeks starting next week, unable to attend a hearing seeking the restraining order.
Scheduling necessitated Thursday’s proceeding, he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Terry Eady, one of Cooper’s clients, testified for about an hour during Thursday’s proceeding, talking about both Whipple-Lue’s time in office and the city’s current status. With Whipple-Lue suspended, he said the government has “stabilized” and morale has improved, Cooper said.
In their suit, the Concerned Citizens of Gordon alleged malfeasance and contended that Whipple-Lue has violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Thursday, evidence was presented that Whipple-Lue had violated that law shortly before her last suspension by holding a meeting of the Gordon Better Hometown board without providing proper prior notice. Because the entity receives state funding, notice was required, Cooper said.
Other evidence regarding the hiring of a new Gordon city attorney also was presented.
Gordon’s new lawyer, who replaced longtime city attorney Joseph Boone, wrote to Whipple-Lue confirming his appointment 51 days before council members discussed his hiring, Cooper said.
He said the document is proof of an unlawful contract.
Though barred from acting as mayor, between the afternoon of June 2 and Wednesday night, Whipple-Lue contacted the new city attorney seeking advice, Cooper said.
Mayor locked out
About 70 miles away, Whipple-Lue went to Gordon City Hall with several supporters Thursday morning.
But the door to her office was locked.
Eady said he went to City Hall late Wednesday afternoon to return the mayor’s keys and other city property she turned in when the judge suspended her last month. The June 2 temporary restraining order expired late Wednesday afternoon.
He said he stayed until 5:15 p.m.
“The mayor never showed up,” Eady said.
Eady said Whipple-Lue called him about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, asking for the keys, as he was making his way to the courthouse in Swainsboro. He told her he’d waited Wednesday and that he was on the way to court for another order to temporarily suspend her.
“She hung up,” Eady said.
With the mayor locked out of her office and people gathering with signs outside City Hall, Gordon police locked the building.
The city clerk has been on vacation all week. The assistant clerk was working in the building alone and felt intimidated, Eady said.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.