Much was discussed in last Friday's Fulton Superior Court hearing in re the matter of Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless vs. the World that didn't make it into my hurriedly written blog post, so I'd like to add some perspective to what was decided.
First, what didn't happen: Judge Craig Schwall made no ruling on the Task Force's claims that local business leaders, city officials and even Emory University conspired improperly to strip the shelter of its public and private funding. Task Force attorney Steve Hall repeatedly tried to introduce the conspiracy evidence, only to have the judge tell him the hearing was devoted solely to the question of why the 100,000-square-foot building shouldn't be handed over to its owner, an outfit called Premium Funding Solutions.
Schwall announced his ruling would be based on the answers to two questions:
• Would the Task Force suffer irreparable harm, with no remedies at law, if forced to leave the shelter?
• Would the homeless men living at Peachtree-Pine be harmed if the Task Force was ousted?
Early in the hearing, Hall said his clients planned to sue the accused conspirators for $24 million(!) for participating in "tortious interference" in the shelter's business operations. Well, that certainly answered the first question as far as Schwall was concerned: If the Task Force is entitled to $24M in damages — a remedy at law if ever there was one — then it certainly couldn't claim irreparable harm, he said. Personally, I wouldn't mind a little of that kind of harm.
As to whether the homeless would be demonstrably worse off if another services provider — the United Way, in this case — were to step in, Hall had little ammunition to convince the judge that Anita Beaty must remain in control of the shelter.
"Why are your clients different from any other entity in that they don't have to pay their water bill?" Schwall asked pointedly of Hall in the opening minutes of the hearing — and it only went downhill from there for the Task Force. Some of the judge's choicer comments:
• "I don't think your clients did themselves any favors inviting in Occupy Atlanta. Is it about helping the less fortunate or getting media attention and making personal attacks?"
• "We wouldn't even be here if the city of Atlanta and Georgia Power had the courage to stick up for their taxpayers and shareholders and cut your utilities off."
• "I gave your clients a year-and-a-half without paying rent and begged them to mediate (with the defendants)… Say you don't prove this fraud — then I've trodden on the property rights of the defendant."
The fraud Schwall references is the aforementioned conspiracy — which is a real thing. There are plenty of memos, letters, and emails — as well as deposition evidence — to confirm that A.J. Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress and others undertook a coordinated, behind-the-scenes effort to persuade existing and potential donors not to give any more money to the Task Force.
My response: You say "conspiracy" like that's a bad thing. Andy Young and Billy Payne conspired to bring the Olympics to Atlanta. Roy Barnes conspired with Democrats to remove the Confederate Battle emblem from the state flag. Some conspiracies arguably serve the public good. The real question then is, was the conspiracy against the Task Force illegal or fraudulent?
Having heard the case against CAP and the city, I'd have to say no. Most of the "interference" the Task Force considers so improper involves Robinson or some other bigwig telling donors what a lousy job the shelter is doing and how much better off the city would be if the place were closed or taken over by another agency. I'd say that's pretty well covered by the First Amendment.
For instance, the Task Force is currently suing Emory because some university official called Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, a Peachtree-Pine supporter, to persuade him that Beaty would not be a good steward of his largess.
Hall read from a deposition in which Cathy said he was already having second thoughts about giving more money to the Task Force; that Beaty's plans to build a garden on the building's roof were unrealistic; and that the former homeless woman whom Beaty planned to put in charge of managing a proposed coffee shop in the front of the building was completely unsuited to run any kind of food-service establishment.
In short, Cathy went on the record to say he believed that Anita's vision for operating Peachtree-Pine was — and this is my word — delusional.
Why did Hall relate this extremely damaging information? Presumably, as evidence that the CAP cabal had somehow brainwashed Cathy and other successful businessmen and philanthropists, turning them against the Task Force and ruining Beaty's sterling reputation in the community. "These people assassinated us," he told Schwall.
Delusional. I think it's a good word.
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