One of the candidates in a runoff for a Macon-based judgeship ran up credit card debt of more than $13,000 several years ago, and when the card company sued him for nonpayment, he countersued and tried to collect millions.
When the candidate, Jim Barnes, lost his case in Bibb County State Court, he appealed the ruling. The state Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that Barnes’ appeal was “frivolous” and fined him $1,000, records show.
The Court of Appeals imposes penalties “fairly infrequently,” said Holly Sparrow, clerk of the court and court administrator.
Barnes said he doesn’t remember the Court of Appeals assessing him a penalty. He contended that his appeal wasn’t frivolous because it was backed by law.
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During the 1990s, Barnes amassed credit card debt with AT&T Universal Card Services totaling $13,562, according to State Court records.
In 1998, the card company sued him for not paying his bill, and it filed negative reports with credit bureaus. Barnes countersued, claiming breach of contract and libel. He sought nearly $17 million from the company.
Now, nearly eight years after the case was resolved, Barnes said he still doesn’t agree with the court rulings.
“I think my position that they were doing something wrong has been justified or shown to be correct by the banks in recent years and all the problems we have had,” he said.
Barnes said he has paid the nearly $22,000 ordered by the court — which includes interest, attorney’s fees and court costs, but a lien filed in Bibb County Superior Court does not reflect that the account has been settled.
Barnes’ opponent, Howard Simms, declined to comment Thursday when contacted about the case.
On Nov. 30, voters will decide whether Barnes or Simms will fill a vacancy on the Superior Court bench in the Macon circuit, which covers Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties.
Barnes, a political newcomer, took 42.6 percent of the vote in the Nov. 2 general election. Simms, a former district attorney, garnered 39.6 percent while a third candidate, G. Morris Carr took 17.9 percent.
In a sworn statement filed in the State Court case, Barnes explained why he didn’t pay the $13,562 credit card bill and why he believed the credit card company owed him money.
Barnes accepted an offer for the credit card in 1990. During the next seven years, he received monthly billing statements. Several of the statements included promotional inserts and notices of changes in the credit agreement.
Contacted this week, Barnes said he believed the credit card company was engaged in deceptive business practices by stuffing advertisements along with bills and small pieces of paper that explained changes in the credit card agreement.
In court documents, Barnes contended that as written, the credit card company’s contract did not specifically prohibit customers from changing the terms of their own credit card agreements.
In response, Barnes wrote a new proposed contract of his own on the back of his Nov. 1, 1996, payment check.
He proposed that the credit card company open a savings account for him in which he would deposit a penny. The company would then pay him interest on the penny at the rate of 1 percent per hour, compounded hourly for 30 days. Under terms of the proposal, dubbed the “Barnes Contract” in court documents, if the company accepted his check, it also was agreeing to enter into a new contract with Barnes under the conditions he proposed, according to the affidavit.
Barnes wrote the proposal in tiny, 4-point type on the back of his check in the area where a person would normally endorse a check.
The bank accepted that check and additional ones that Barnes also submitted with written messages on the back, but it did not agree to Barnes’ proposed changes.
Some of the messages sought to further amend Barnes’ agreement with the credit card company. For example, he requested a credit line of $4 million and sought to increase the interest on his savings account to 3 percent. In time, the savings account payments would grow to almost $17 million, according to the affidavit.
Messages on some of the checks were meant to inform the company that Barnes rejected any modifications made by the company, according to the affidavit.
“I am electing to continue our business relationship under the current terms to which we have both agreed,” he wrote.
In an Oct. 17, 1997, letter to the credit card company, Barnes informed the company that it owed him $16,981,050.87 under the terms of his contract, according to court records. At some point, Barnes’ business insurance covering contents and liability were canceled due to a negative credit report. After checking his credit report, Barnes found that the credit card company had submitted negative information to credit bureaus about his account, according to the affidavit. The negative credit report made it nearly impossible for Barnes to begin new relationships with banks that were issuing credit cards and to provide his legal services to the banks, the statement said.
Bibb County State Court Judge William P. Adams ruled in favor of the credit card company in 2001, and he ordered that Barnes pay his bill and all accrued interest, as well as attorneys fees and court costs.
Adams ruled that because there was no “meeting of the minds” between Barnes and the credit card company about Barnes’ proposed contract changes, the new contract was not valid or binding.
Barnes appealed Adams’ ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where the decision was upheld.