Senoia case headed to Ga. Supreme Court

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The Georgia Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Senoia resident suing the city over the wording of an ordinance.

Senoia resident Don Rehman, currently a candidate for mayor, sued the city earlier this year over its ordinance related to the possession of marijuana. Rehman acted as his own attorney.

On May 23, Coweta Superior Court Judge Dennis Blackmon granted Senoia's motion to dismiss the case. Rehman appealed directly to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The Georgia Supreme Court has docketed the case and set it for oral argument on Oct. 8.

On Thursday, Blackmon approved Senoia's request that Rehman be made to pay the city's legal fees. The fees total $7,035.59. However, the city won’t get the money until after the Supreme Court rules on the appeal, according to Rehman. The judge agreed with Rehman putting the money into the court registry, he said. If he wins at the Supreme Court of Georgia, Rehman will get his money back.

Rehman's issue is with the ordinance that states "it shall be unlawful for any person to have in his possession less than one ounce of marijuana."

Rehman said the ordinance is "ill conceived, confusing, detrimental and unconstitutional." It could be interpreted to mean that people must have at least one ounce of marijuana in their possession, he said. It also may have an unconstitutional gender bias due to the use of the word "his."

Rehman initially expressed his concerns about the ordinance in an email to the city council in September 2010. He states in his appeal that "other efforts followed but to no avail.

"Having no other alternative or remedy, and mindful of a citizen's duty to his community to pursue the matter," Rehman filed suit in May.

According to the transcript of the case, Blackmon called Rehman's suit "the most ridiculous thing I have ever had in this court, ever."

"You have wasted this court's time. You have wasted all these people's time," Blackmon said at the May 23 hearing. "I do not know what possessed you to come into this court with something this ridiculous."

Coweta Superior Court "does very serious things, not silly, ridiculous things," Blackmon said.

Senoia City Attorney Drew Whalen has filed a motion with the Supreme Court to dismiss the case, as well as a motion to sanction Rehman for filing a frivolous appeal.

Blackmon dismissed Rehman's suit for a number of reasons: the case fails to state a claim for which relief could be granted, the court lacks jurisdiction because it cannot compel the defendants to act on a legislative matter, the service to the defendants was not proper, Rehman lacks standing to bring the case because he has never been arrested under the statute, the city has sovereign immunity for reasonable actions, and Rehman is not at risk of any irreparable harm.

Of Rehman's way of serving the city notice of the suit, Blackmon said, "You have not properly served anybody at all in any way, in any legal fashion that could even be imagined," Blackmon said. "Your 'constructive service' is ridiculous and is not legal."

"For all these reasons and many more, this case is dismissed in its entirety," Blackmon said in court.

Whalen was asked this week why the council doesn’t simply change the wording of the ordinance.

“The mayor and council is the city’s legislative body and have very strong legislative discretion,” Whalen said. “If they prefer not to take action on an ordinance, it’s their prerogative.”

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