LAWRENCEVILLE -- Charles Bannister, once the leader of Gwinnett County government, threatened to sue his former employer and its Sheriff's Department earlier this year for nearly $2 million, reiterating complaints that he was wrongly arrested on DUI charges last year as part of a smear campaign, according to records obtained by the Daily Post.
In March, Bannister's attorney sent an ante-litem notice, or a precursor to a lawsuit, addressed to Gwinnett County Commissioners and other dignitaries demanding a settlement of $1.79 million as retribution for the "malicious" arrest and subsequent public scrutiny, documents obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act show.
The notice set a timetable of a month for the county to respond to that offer. In April, former county attorney Karen Thomas wrote in response, "Your allegations have been carefully reviewed and your demand for settlement is respectfully denied," a letter obtained via Open Records law states.
That's where Bannister's push for a settlement apparently ended. Court records show no formal suit has been filed in Gwinnett; Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais said Monday the department is not aware of a lawsuit.
Bourbonnais referred specific questions to the county's law department, where acting county attorney Van Stephens did not return a request for comment late Monday.
Sheriff Butch Conway, who the notice points to as having a vendetta against the former Commission Chairman, "stands by his comments made at the press conference when the (DUI charges against Bannister) were dismissed," Bourbonnais said.
Atlanta-based attorney David Walbert, who filed the ante-litem notice for Bannister in March, did not return a message left at his office Monday.
The notice rails against Bannister's June 28, 2010 arrest after leaving a Lilburn restaurant as illegal and unconstitutional. "The entire sordid affair arose out of the personally motivated desire of Sheriff Conway, acting through his underlings, to humiliate (Bannister)," it reads. And later: "Bannister will live with this public humiliation until he dies."
Bannister, then 71, was exonerated of DUI charges lodged by a Sheriff's Department deputy after breath and blood tests revealed he had no alcohol in his system. Four deputies in the restaurant claimed to have seen Bannister drinking beers before leaving in a county-issued Crown Victoria that evening -- statements corroborated by a waitress, according to a 294-page Georgia Bureau of Investigation report on the matter.
Bannister told investigators he'd had a couple beers after work with a colleague but was by no means a danger on the road.
A deputy who pulled Bannister over claimed he smelled a strong odor of alcohol and that Bannister appeared drunk. That Bannister failed field sobriety tests such as a one-leg stand was more a product of age than his level of impairment, the notice insists.
Throughout the ordeal, Conway denied that he and Bannister were political adversaries. He called the arrest and baseless charges more a product of poor judgment than animosity.
The controversial arrest came months before Bannister suddenly resigned to avoid a perjury charge as a special grand jury was investigating controversial land deals conducted under his watch.
The highly visible Bannister has since slipped into relative obscurity, appearing at only a handful of events, such as a speech by Georgia's new governor and a meeting with business leaders.
Bannister's confidants recently told the Daily Post the Lilburn resident has found a peace in retirement. He renovated his wife's childhood home and savors time spent with his grandchildren.