Atlanta legal feud isn’t about masks but economy, Kemp says

From left: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp
From left: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp(WRDW)
Published: Jul. 22, 2020 at 5:09 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is speaking out about the lawsuit he’s filed against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and members of the City Council.

He says the legal battle is more about the economy than it is about wearing face masks.

Bottoms mandated that people wear face coverings in public as a way to prevent the spread of coronavirus. She also rolled back the reopening of businesses that were shuttered for weeks to curb the pandemic.

“It’s very interesting that some people think I’m like an anti-masker. That’s not the case,” Kemp said.

“It’s about pulling back on the reopening plans and hurting small businesses and trying to revive our economy during these tough times, but still having a strong message in our fight against COVID-19.”

The governor spoke Tuesday just hours after two Fulton County Superior Court Judges stepped aside from hearing arguments in the lawsuit.

He says local governments aren’t allowed to impose rules that are less strict or more strict than his own. He has refused to mandate mask-wearing in the state and in fact specifically invalidated mask mandates from cities that include Augusta, Atlanta and Savannah.

Bottoms says she feels like the state’s capital city is being singled out, since the governor hasn’t sued those other cities.

Meanwhile, a group of Georgia cities is getting involved in the feud.

The Georgia Municipal Association filed a brief siding with Atlanta in the legal fight.

The group says Kemp does not have the legal authority to stop cities from issuing things like mask mandates, especially since he’s been touring the peach state promoting mask-use.

The legal battle was supposed to head to court Tuesday morning, but two judges recused themselves 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, Judge Kelly Ellerbe said she was recusing herself after consulting with the lawyers in the case by telephone conference and email. 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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report