Monday, May 19, 2008

Bobby Baker wins Supreme Court case, stays on PSC

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2008 at 2:53 PM

Bobby Baker, Public Service Commission, Georgia Supreme Court

Commissioner Robert "Bobby" Baker woke up to some good news today.

The state Supreme Court this morning upheld a lower court's ruling in a dispute over Baker's residence, allowing the chairman of the Public Service Commission to keep his spot.

In 2006, Roger Dozier — the opponent Baker bested in the 2004 Republican primary — and Eleanor McMannon filed a complaint alleging that Baker didn't live in the Athens district he represents on the commission.

The court found that Baker does indeed reside in Clarke County. “None of Appellants’ evidence presented any facts inconsistent with Commissioner Baker’s evidence and sworn intention that his domicile is in Clarke County,” the court's opinion says.

Had the court ruled otherwise, it could've been an odd time for the state. The five-member commission has a reputation for being a bit too cozy with the utilities whose rates and operations it oversees. When Commissioner Angela Speir announced last month that she would not be seeking re-election, the public-interest community cast their eyes nervously on those who would seek her place, as well as toward Baker, who is often mentioned in the same sentence as Speir as a champion for consumers.

The excellently written press release regarding the ruling after the jump:

DOZIER ET AL. V. BAKER, COMMISSIONER (S08A0688)

The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling that sided with Public Service Commissioner Robert “Bobby” Baker in a dispute over his residence.

In 2006, Roger Dozier, who lost to Baker in the 2004 Republican primary, and Eleanor McMannon filed a complaint in Fulton County challenging Baker’s residence as a sham. In response, Baker filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to rule without a jury based on a lack of facts to support Dozier’s claim. The trial court ruled in Baker’s favor.

In today’s opinion, written by Justice George Carley, the Supreme Court agrees that Baker met the state’s residency requirements.

In 1998, the General Assembly changed the law and divided the state into PSC districts, requiring each commissioner to reside in a particular district at least 12 months prior to the election. Under the new law, Baker had to establish residency in the Athens area, PSC District 2. At the time, he owned a home in DeKalb County, District 3.

In 2003, more than 12 months before the 2004 election, Baker purchased a condominium in Athens. He changed the address of his driver’s license, campaign disclosure reports, and motor vehicle registrations to that address. He registered to vote there, attended church there, began receiving mortgage statements and personal mail there, and filed income tax returns from that address. In 2002, he deeded the DeKalb County home to his wife, Joselyn Baker, press secretary to former Gov. Roy Barnes and an Assistant General Manager of MARTA.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Dozier argued that Georgia law has long interpreted “residency” to mean “domicile,” which requires not merely physically residing at a location, but having the “intention of remaining permanently...” Dozier argued that Baker and his wife actually reside in DeKalb County and only visit Athens some weekends. He said Baker did not meet the residency requirements under the law because he does not intend to abandon his DeKalb County home and live in Clarke County.

The Supreme Court finds that the evidence shows Baker’s domicile is in Clarke County. “None of Appellants’ evidence presented any facts inconsistent with Commissioner Baker’s evidence and sworn intention that his domicile is in Clarke County,” the opinion says.

Attorneys for Appellant (Dozier): A. Lee Parks, David Walbert, Steven Wolfe

Attorneys for Appellee (Baker): Robert Highsmith, Jr., Heather Calhoun

(Photo courtesy of the Georgia Public Service Commission)

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