Update: Legal battle over Atlanta mask mandate is in limbo after 2 judges step aside

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 4:40 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 3:36 PM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - The legal battle between Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was supposed to head to court this morning, but two judges stepped aside from the case.

A Fulton County judge was set to hear arguments starting at 11 a.m. But in an order filed less than two hours before the hearing was to begin, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Ellerbe said she was recusing herself after consulting with the lawyers in the case by telephone conference and email.

The case was then reassigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua. But LaGrua issued an order Tuesday afternoon recusing herself, saying she wanted “to avoid any appearance of impropriety or bias.” She noted that she had worked for Kemp as an inspector general when he was secretary of state and has been and remains under consideration for appointments by Kemp.

Online court records showed the case was reassigned to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick.

An email exchange attached to Ellerbe's recusal order indicates the judge made a disclosure to the lawyers for both sides Monday afternoon that prompted the state to ask her to recuse.

“This particular case has drawn significant attention at the state and national level, and therefore, we believe for all parties concerned, that even any potential perception of impropriety could be problematic,” Deputy Attorney General Julie Jacobs wrote in an email Tuesday morning.

Lawyers for the city of Atlanta said in an email that they had no objection to the judge hearing the case.

The governor filed a lawsuit last week against Bottoms and members of the City Council over the mandate for people to wear masks in public in Atlanta as a way to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

He wants to stop the mandate and recommendations to rollback the reopening of businesses.

Kemp is arguing that local governments cannot issue orders more or less restrictive than his own.

Other cities in Georgia, including Augusta, Savannah and Athens, still have mask mandates in place.

Bottoms says she feels like the state’s capital city is being singled out:

“There were other cities in our state who instituted mask mandates, and he did not push back against them. I don’t know if it’s because perhaps they were led by men, or if it’s perhaps because of the demographic in the city of Atlanta. I don’t know what the answers are, but what I do know is that the science is on our side.”

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