LAWRENCEVILLE -- A Gwinnett County Superior Court judged tossed out a complaint against local school officials on Thursday that alleged they were campaigning against a constitutional amendment on the taxpayer's dime.
Stating that plaintiffs and attorneys did not meet a 10-day deadline to file documents that verified their claims, Superior Court Judge Dawson Jackson dismissed the complaint, which alleged local leaders were using time and money to campaign against a Nov. 6 ballot question.
The judge's order was made public about 24 hours after Wednesday's hearing in which lawyers on both sides argued the case.
After more than two hours of back and forth in court Wednesday, 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 -- ordered 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, 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."
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."
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.
In his order released on Thursday, the judge also cited the Anti-SLAPP regulations.
"The activities complained of by the plaintiffs involved the constitutional rights of freedom of speech of all of the defendants," Jackson wrote. "Each defendant was speaking about a matter soon to be submitted to the electorate for a vote regarding public educational funding. In light of the plaintiffs' claim, the requirements of state code apply."
State code requires plaintiffs and their attorneys to file a written verification under oath.
The plaintiffs did file verifications, but there were omissions, including one of the plaintiffs and all of the attorneys.
Defendants in the suit called attention to the omission of names on Oct. 12. From that date, the plaintiffs had 10 days to provide all verifications.
Because they did not do so in 10 days, the judge tossed the complaint, citing Georgia code: "If a claim is not verified as required ... it shall be stricken unless it is verified within ten days after the omission is called to the attention of the party asserting the claim."
In court Wednesday, 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 this reason, Hartley filed a motion to have the injunction dismissed.
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 disagreed with the judge's ruling.
"He is entitled to his opinion, but in my view those technicalities only imply that there was an alleged infringement on free speech," Delk said. "These types of restrictions are not an infringement on free speech."
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.