LAWRENCEVILLE -- Attorneys await a ruling in a lawsuit that seeks to stop local school officials from alleged on-the-clock campaigning against a constitutional amendment slated for the Nov. 6 ballot.
After more than two hours of arguments in Gwinnett County Superior Court on Wednesday, Judge Dawson Jackson adjourned the proceeding, saying that he would not rule on the matter during the session.
In the lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 8, a group of five plaintiffs -- all Gwinnett County residents -- are ordering Gwinnett County Public Schools and Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to refrain from advocating against a constitutional amendment that aims to affirm the state's authority to charter independent public schools.
In court Wednesday, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the judge that their complaint "alleges that there was a coordinated effort throughout the school day to discuss the campaign."
"The U.S. Constitution and Georgia code prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for anything other than educational purposes," said the plaintiffs' attorney Josh Belinfante. "Those are the issues that control this (case). It's about those provisions of law. The extent in which there has been involvement...is extensive."
Victoria Sweeny, an attorney representing Wilbanks and GCPS, told the judge that the injunction sought by plaintiffs is "asking this court to suppress the ideas and information the public is entitled to have from its leaders."
Added Sweeny: "They are leaders -- that's what leaders do. They tell people their opinion on matters that are of public importance, particularly as it affects the entity that they govern and that they lead."
The Georgia School Boards Association, an organization also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit for allegedly acting as an extension of school board member advocacy, was represented by an attorney who echoed much of Sweeny's remarks.
Attorney Phil Hartley referenced state Anti -- SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) compliance. The term refers to alleged lawsuits intended to silence government action on an issue.
"Under the provision, the courts have been very clear," Hartley said. "Any claim that can be reasonably construed as infringing upon First Amendment rights is required to comply."
Hartley said that the plaintiffs' attorneys did not comply. He told the judge that they did not provide affidavits in the amount of time specified for compliance. For this reason, Hartley filed a motion to have the injunction dismissed.
The judge did not rule on the motion for dismissal, and it was not clear when the judge would issue a ruling on the lawsuit.
Before Dawson adjourned Wednesday's session, Belinfante gave closing remarks:
"This is not about muzzling the speech of the GSBA, the superintendent or the school district," Belinfante said. "This is about when they decide to engage in advocacy and whether they are on the county's time."
The suit lists five Gwinnett County residents as plaintiffs: Sabrina Smith, Shelly Nix, Jim Regan, James R. Lappana and Richard P. Schneider.
A similar case was heard briefly in Fulton Superior Court on Oct. 10, but the judge transferred the hearing for a preliminary injunction against Gwinnett County Public Schools to a different location.
The suit also regarded a claim that local education leaders were campaigning on the taxpayer's dime.
Glenn Delk, an attorney for plaintiffs in that suit, said he was watching Wednesday's proceedings in Gwinnett Superior Court, but did not elaborate on the future of his case.
The hearing in Fulton Superior Court on Oct. 10 involved a group of Georgia residents as plaintiffs, who claimed that GCPS as well as Fulton County Schools and all 180 districts in Georgia should refrain from alleged on-the-clock campaigning against the constitutional amendment.