On June 24, Henry County Superior Court Chief Judge Amero allowed two out of nine claims related to the Fulton County election lawsuit to proceed while dismissing the remaining seven. The two approved claims require the county to produce digital images of 147,000 ballots which is the focal point of the lawsuit alleging voting irregularities in the 2020 presidential race.
The judge also ruled that the three respondents of the lawsuit—Fulton County, Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections, and Fulton County Clerk of Superior and Magistrate Courts—could not be considered defendants due to sovereign immunity protections. Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that protects governmental parties from most forms of lawsuits. It can only be waived through an act of the General Assembly or via Georgia’s constitution.
However, Judge Amero subsequently decided to add five members from the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections as respondents to the lawsuit, managing to keep the case alive.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Don Samuel, an attorney for the Fulton County election board said that Amero’s ruling prevents the plaintiffs from inspecting the absentee ballots using high-powered microscopes as they intended.
“That litigation is finished… Is there going to be an audit? Not right now. … There’s no discovery permitted. There’s no lawsuit pending anymore,” Samuel stated.
On May 21, Amero ruled to unseal the 147,000 absentee ballots. He also allowed petitioners in the case to visit the site storing the ballots so that they could create high-resolution images of these ballots. A meeting between the parties involved in the lawsuit was scheduled on May 28 at the ballot storage location. However, the meeting was cancelled after defendants filed a series of motions.
In a statement, Garland Favorito, lead plaintiff in the case and head of the Voter GA election integrity group, characterized Amero’s June 24 ruling as a win. He dismissed Samuel’s viewpoint on the decision.
“The ruling substitutes Defendants by replacing currently named government organizations with individual board members we named originally in our lawsuit. It also moots Don Samuels’ attempt to dismiss our case. This continues the string of victories we have including how we obtained the original protective order, conditional approval to inspect ballots, access to ballot images, and the order to unseal the ballots,” according to the statement.
Bob Cheeley, a lawyer representing two of the petitioners, told Just The News that Amero’s decision will help the audit move forward.
“This is a huge victory for everyone who wants to get to the truth about the way in which Fulton County mishandled the absentee ballot count,” he said.
The lawyer is confident that the request to allow ballot inspection will survive attempts to dismiss the case. Cheeley points out that Amero had cited a Georgia Supreme Court decision in the June 24 order which will help them in the suit. The decision, Lathrop v. Deal, says that while sovereign immunity allows government entities from getting sued, there are other ways for petitioners to gain relief. One of them would be suing individual members for official acts which are clearly against the constitution.
The plaintiffs will now have to serve the five members of the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections who were added to the lawsuit as respondents. Each must respond to the claims. Then, there will be motions to dismiss the claims or the cases must be addressed. Hearings on these motions and discovery would take a few months. Therefore, unsealing and inspection of ballots will likely not happen anytime soon.
Judge Amero’s decision comes as Mariska Bodison, an election official from the Fulton County Registration & Elections, admitted in an interview with The Georgia Star News on June 9 that the chain of custody documents for some of the ballots from the November 3 election were missing.
“As we review the documents provided to you and our daily log. We noticed that a few forms are missing, it seems when 25 plus core personnel were quarantined due to positive COVID-19 outbreak at the EPC, some procedural paperwork may have been misplaced,” Bodison stated.
Following the revelation, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger tweeted that the matter would be “investigated thoroughly.”