FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — A lawsuit filed against a group of judges by four wrecker companies alleges their lots are overflowing with abandoned cars because of a court’s failure to follow state law.
Robi Hilliard is a manager at Futo’s Inc., an Atlanta wrecker company.
Hilliard tells Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Mark Winne that an issue with Fulton County Magistrate Court is threatening to wreck their business if the issue isn’t fixed.
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“We can’t tow when we don’t have any more room to tow, and we have to have room for the police when they call us to tow,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard said most of the cars on the Futo’s lot aren’t part of this issue, but dozens of abandoned vehicles are.
Attorney Will Story said he’s filed a petition for a writ of mandamus against Fulton County’s Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk and other magistrate judges he intends to identify as the case proceeds.
“Georgia law calls a writ of mandamus an extraordinary remedy,” Story said.
He said wrecker companies send notices to abandoned vehicle owners and lien holders twice by certified mail and if no one claims the cars, many of which were towed on police orders, companies file motions with Magistrate Court so they can recoup towing and storage fees by selling the cars.
By law, the court must rule in 15 days, but often has not.
Story confirmed to Winne that 388 motions about that issue have been filed.
He said the motion in one case where an order was due in 15 days was filed in 2021, but more than 200 of the motions go back to 2022.
Story’s petition suggests that as of Jan. 11, Futo’s Inc. had not received an order on 57 motions pending for more than 15 days, with the most outstanding motion filed on March 7, 2022.
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Though Story said in one case a hearing was held Jan. 8, the petition suggests that as of Jan. 9, Tow Atlanta, LLC had not received an order on 100 motions, with the most outstanding motion filed in Sept. 2022.
He also said that as of Jan. 22, Southside Wrecker Service, LLC had not received an order on 174 motions with the most outstanding filed in Dec. 2021, and as of Jan. 5, 2024, South Metro Towing, Inc. had not received an order on 57 motions, the most outstanding motion filed on Aug. 25, 2023.
Judge Kirk said Magistrate Court handles many kinds of cases: landlord/tenant, garnishments, small claims and much more.
She says she does not know if there are abandoned motor vehicle motions pending since 2022, or even 2021, but if there are, judges will address them.
She said she’s had a team of judges assigned to the abandoned motor vehicle cases for years, but her budget for fiscal year 2024 has been cut and that will affect the time those judges can spend on those cases.
Story said this isn’t about profits for the four tow companies.
He said any money from the sales of abandoned vehicles they collect over the storage and tow fees goes to the state and owners have a year to claim it.
A Fulton County spokesperson said the budget adopted by the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday reduced the Magistrate Court budget by $780,000 and increased the Superior Court budget by the same amount.
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