Judge rules for state in videotaping case, orders Cumming officials to pay $12,000

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Attorney General Sam Olens has won his lawsuit against the City of Cumming and Mayor Ford Gravitt over Gravitt’s order for city police to eject a person who tried to videotape a city council meeting in 2012.

Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson of Winder ruled in the state’s favor and ordered Cumming to pay $12,000 in penalties – the city will also have to pay an additional amount, to be determined later, for attorney’s fees.

Olens filed the lawsuit on behalf of Nydia Tisdale after Gravitt had Tisdale ejected from that city council meeting – which was held on the same day that Gov. Nathan Deal signed a new state open records and open meeting law.

“There is no justification, substantial or otherwise, for such conduct,” Adamson ruled in an order signed Aug. 21.

“In this instance, Defendants were put on unequivocal notice that they were violating the Act as soon as they attempted to remove both Ms. Tisdale and her camera from the meeting,” Adamson wrote.

“Ms. Tisdale not only referenced the specific statutory provisions that authorized the taping, but also requested three times that the Mayor and City Council consult with the City’s attorney, Dana Miles, who was also present. Yet, Mayor Gravitt pushed ahead with the meeting, while the Chief of Police challenged Ms. Tisdald to ‘go ahead and file your [Open Meetings] complaint,” Adamson said in his ruling.

“This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” Olens said. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment.”

Olens added: “My office takes very seriously our responsibility to enforce the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. The actions by the mayor in this circumstance were egregious, and it is essential that he be held responsible for his actions.”

Ironically, Tisdale was ejected on Saturday from a Republican Party rally in Dawsonville while she was attempting to videotape remarks made by GOP candidates there, including Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.

Hudgens said in his remarks to the audience about Michelle Nunn’s performance in last week’s Senate debate with David Perdue: “I thought I was gonna have to resuscitate my wife, I thought she was gonna pass out, and I thought I was gonna absolutely puke, listening to her.”

As Hudgens uttered the “puke” remark, he noticed that he was being videotaped by Tisdale and said, “I don’t know why you’re videotaping, but yes, I said that.”

A Dawson County sheriff’s deputy subsequently grabbed Tisdale and removed her from the meeting, even as she protested that she had a right to videotape it. She was arrested and booked at the Dawson County jail.

Her ejection prompted this comment from Olens, who was also at the event:

“Let me be possibly politically incorrect here a second. If we stand for anything as a party what are we afraid of with the lady having a camera filming us? What are we saying here that shouldn’t be on film? What message are we sending? That because it’s private property, they shouldn’t be filming it? What is the harm?

“The harm that occurs post-this is far greater than her filming us. What are we hiding? If we are telling you why we’re running and what we stand for — what are we hiding? There is no reason for that. That is not right. It is private property. The property owner has the right to not have the person there. Who’s the winner in the long run? Not a good move.”

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Cumming , Ford Gravitt , journalist videotaping , Nydia Tisdale , open meetings law , Robert Adamson , Sam Olens