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Judge throws out Chamber open records lawsuit

Nearly two years of legal maneuvering ended this week when a Gwinnett Superior Court judge tossed out an open records lawsuit and ruled in favor of the defendants.

About six weeks after the fourth hearing in the case, Judge Randy Rich gave summary judgement in favor of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Gwinnett County and Gwinnett County Public Schools in a lawsuit brought originally in November 2012 by Sabrina Smith of Suwanee.

“We are extremely pleased with the Court’s ruling in our favor, which vindicated our position in the lawsuit,” Chamber President and CEO Daniel Kaufman said in a statement. “Even though the Gwinnett Chamber is a private, non-profit organization, and not subject to the Open Records Act, we voluntarily provided Ms. Smith with the information she requested. The Court recognized this fact in its Order. We are pleased to have this lawsuit behind us and we will continue to work diligently with our public and private partners to recruit, retain and expand business and create new jobs for Gwinnett County.”

Smith, a government watchdog and activist, alleged in the lawsuit a misappropriation of government funds and taxpayer dollars intended for educational purposes, but funneled toward ballot initiatives. Smith’s attorney, Chris McClurg, said in a June hearing that public money given to economic development was above the necessary threshold needed to be subject to open records laws.

Attempts to reach Smith and McClurg on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Attorneys for the Chamber contended that the Partnership Gwinnett Public Funding Entity does not dispute that it’s subject to open records, and it was created for the sole purpose of being the public arm of the Chamber and subject that entity for open records requests.

Attorneys for the county previously asked Rich that the county be dismissed from the case because it’s the burden of the plaintiff to prove a specific claim of sovereign immunity.

During the at times contentious hearing in June, attorneys sparred about “clever” accounting maneuvers by the defendants and “wild accusations” made by McClurg.