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Gwinnett judge denies appeal in commissioner’s suit over ethics board

A Gwinnett judge has dismissed the appeal filed by Commissioner Tommy Hunter as part of his lawsuit against the county ethics board that, more than a year ago, recommended he be punished for Facebook comments that included calling Congressman John Lewis a “racist pig.” 

The appeal was dismissed in part because of a paperwork snafu, and Hunter’s attorney said it would be filed again — a move that would likely help the case find its way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

“We will refile the appeal,” Hunter’s attorney, Dwight Thomas, said Monday. “Too many questionable things occurred.”

MORE13 controversial Facebook posts from Gwinnett Commissioner Tommy Hunter

Hunter, who remains on the county commission, filed his lawsuit last summer. It claims that Gwinnett’s ethic board is unconstitutional because some of its members are appointed by non-elected entities.

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The county has argued against that claim, saying that the ethics board is merely a recommending body and that the ultimate authority to punish (or not punish) Hunter was in the hands of his commission colleagues. 

On June 20, 2017, those colleagues voted 4-0 to give Hunter a public reprimand, the stiffest available penalty. 

The litigation has only grown more complicated since then.

Hunter’s complaint was originally dismissed, and his legal team filed an appeal. That languished until February, when Gwinnett County filed a motion to dismiss it: Hunter’s attorney had requested a certain hearing transcript be included in the record, but never asked the court reporter to actually create said transcript. 

As a result, the case couldn’t move forward. It likely would’ve been docketed in the Georgia Supreme Court — where the case file was erroneously sent at one point and had to be retrieved so the county’s motion could be addressed.

Commissioner Tommy Hunter made the comment about Rep. John Lewis on Facebook in 2017.

The retrieval process resulted in improper out-of-court contact between an attorney representing the county and then-presiding Judge Melodie Snell Conner. Conner later recused herself from the case.

All of that led up to Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Randy Rich issuing his order last week to dismiss Hunter’s appeal, based on the delay in the transcript. 

“Even if the transcript was ‘inadvertently’ designated [to be included in the record], the Petitioner waited over 224 days to discover and correct the issue,” Rich wrote in his order, issued Aug. 8. “The Court finds that the delay in filing the transcript was unreasonable, inexcusable and was caused by the Petitioner.” 

If there are no complications with the filing of Hunter’s new appeal, the lawsuit would likely land in Georgia’s highest court — where a decision could set precedent for how ethics boards across Georgia should be comprised.

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