2 judges recuse themselves in Kemp-Bottoms mask mandate case, hearing canceled for the day

ATLANTA — A second judge assigned to the case between Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has recused herself.

The case had been reassigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua after Judge Kelly Ellerbe recused herself Monday morning. Now, LaGrua is also stepping aside.

A hearing has been rescheduled for July 28 at 10 a.m. with Judge Jane Barwick now presiding.

LaGrua and Ellerbe were supposed to hear the brewing legal battle between the governor and mayor over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, a group of cities is insisting the governor is going too far trying to stop them from their own mask mandates.

Elliot spoke one-on-one with Kemp on Tuesday, who said the lawsuit is more about reviving the economy than masks.

He said he’s worried that Bottoms’ order rolling back the city to phase one of its reopening plan is causing confusion among businesses.

But now, the Georgia Municipal association is getting involved, saying the governor may be exceeding his constitutional authority

“It’s about pulling back on the reopening plan. It’s hurting small businesses and trying to revive an economy during these tough times but still sending a strong message in our fight against COVID-19,” Kemp said.


Atlanta insists the orders are simply recommendations, but now the GMA says it goes much deeper than that.

In a legal brief filed in Fulton Superior Court, the GMA said Kemp exceeded his constitutional authority when he prevented cities from enacting things like a mask mandate.

“There is no indication in Georgia law that the governor has the power to suspend home rule even in times of an emergency,” the brief said.

Legal analyst Esther Panitch told Elliot that Georgia cities are simply saying they believe they have the power to govern themselves.

“Municipalities believe they have the authority to do this. The governor’s office does not believe they have the authority to do this,” Panitch said.

Meanwhile, Kemp is still encouraging, though not mandating, Georgians to follow his four-week challenge.

“Over the next four weeks, socially distance. If you can’t do that, wear your mask. Wash your hands and just follow and enforce the current guidelines that we have,” Kemp said.

Elliot also contacted the city of Atlanta for a comment on the delay of Tuesday’s hearing. So far, he has not heard back from them.