The Gwinnett County commissioner reprimanded after calling Congressman John Lewis a "racist pig" on Facebook is threatening a federal lawsuit — and demanding $5 million — over the punishment he received.
Commissioner Tommy Hunter wrote his controversial posts about Lewis, a civil rights icon and United States representative from Atlanta, on Jan. 14, 2017, amid a public war of words between Lewis and then-president elect Donald Trump. Hunter's commission colleagues handed him a corresponding public reprimand in June, about two weeks after the county's first-ever ethics board recommended such an action.
In a previously unreported document sent to Gwinnett County on Nov. 15, Hunter attorney Dwight Thomas asks for “not less than” $5 million in compensation for what he called the board’s “effort to restrain, chill, and otherwise curtail the free speech” of his client.
Thomas’ ante litem notice, a document required to be submitted before filing litigation against a government, claims the actions of the county’s ethics board and the subsequently issued reprimand violated Hunter’s First, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“The reason for the financial demand is clear,” Hunter’s consultant and spokesman, Seth Weathers, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They have permanently damaged Mr. Hunter’s future employment opportunities.”
A Gwinnett spokesman declined to comment on the would-be lawsuit, but an attorney representing the county filed a response to Thomas’ notice on Nov. 30.
In the strongly worded, six-page response, attorney Ken Jarrard called each of Thomas’ claims to be meritless and said any lawsuit would be “vigorously defended by Gwinnett County.”
Weathers said a lawsuit is still planned but, as of Thursday, nearly two months after the ante litem notice was sent, no federal litigation had actually been filed.
Tyler Estep is a reporter covering DeKalb County, its government and its people. A Gwinnett County native and University of Georgia graduate, he has been with the AJC since 2015. He previously covered his home county and served stints on the paper's hyperlocal and breaking news teams.