County border fight aiming for new courtroom

The dispute over the Bibb-Monroe county border could be sent to another judge this week.

The Secretary of State’s Office is trying to move the dispute — covering some 400 parcels and $1.3 million in annual tax revenue — to a special assistant administrative law judge. The move was launched when Monroe County questioned whether any judge should be part of the case.

Both Monroe County and the county line’s surveyor, Terry Scarborough, are fighting the notion that any judge should be involved. Monroe County argued two weeks ago that adding a judge just adds complications and even grounds for more appeals, because Secretary of State Karen Handel must ultimately decide the border dispute. The judges are expected to evaluate the facts and make recommendations to Handel.

Tuesday, Scarborough e-mailed The Telegraph to say that no judges should be involved, in his opinion.

“I will not testify at any hearing other than the final hearing by the secretary of state,” Scarborough wrote. “I will furnish no further evidence.”

No contempt-of-court charge has been filed against Scarborough. The latest deposition, while ordered by a judge, was excused because Monroe County essentially appealed the order requiring Scarborough to show up.

Virgil Adams, Bibb’s county attorney, said the county will still pay its $173,000 share of Scarborough’s fees after he gives a deposition, which is “critical to the outcome of this process.”

Adams said the legal maneuvers — and Scarborough’s skipping three depositions — are rare.

“Nothing about this whole process is usual, it really isn’t,” he said Tuesday.

Any new judge assigned to the case would take the place of administrative law judge Michael Malihi, who Friday put his case on hold.

Also Friday, the Secretary of State’s Office asked that the case be pulled from Malihi’s court.

The office’s general counsel, Vincent Russo, wrote that he would try clarify the judge’s role in finding the facts of the case this week.

The clarifications could ease some of Monroe County’s concerns, but not all of them. Monroe County attorney Letitia McDonald, one of Monroe County’s four attorneys in the border dispute, argued that judges just shouldn’t be involved.

“Monroe and Bibb Counties, and their taxpayers, should not be forced to expend additional funds on another level or inquiry or a costly litigation process (and potential appeals) that was neither complicated, nor authorized by the legislature in setting the process for determining the boundary between counties,” McDonald wrote.

In his e-mail Tuesday, Scarborough accused Bibb County of trying to bring the border dispute into a courtroom to attack it.

Bibb County “knows that my survey is correct and realizes that their only defense is to cry ‘fraud’ so as to try to place the issue in the courts where it can be ‘lawyered’ into their favor,” he wrote.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.