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Gwinnett judge to pick who hears Clermont library suit
Turner will hear arguments on whether Hall judges should be recused
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The issue of whether Hall County commissioners abused their discretion in choosing not to build a library branch in Clermont won’t be decided until it’s determined which judge will hear it.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Debra K. Turner will hear arguments on why Hall County’s judges should or should not be recused from hearing the case of Clermont versus Hall County.

The town of Clermont, in court filings, calls into question whether Hall County’s superior court judges could serve impartially in the case because the county’s board of commissioners pays the judges salary supplements and also funds their office space and some staff.

The motion to recuse Chief Hall County Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller will be heard by Turner, who was assigned to the case by an administrative judge from outside Hall County.

Turner must decide whether the funding the county provides to the judges — an annual individual salary supplement of about $53,000, plus office expenses and some staff salaries — prevents them from being impartial in the case.

While the base salary of superior court judges is paid by the state of Georgia, all receive some supplement from counties, though the amount varies. Under local legislation passed in 1998, Hall County commissioners are required to pay a supplement to the superior court judges of at least $31,000.

A hearing date on the motion to recuse, which will be heard by Turner in Hall County, has not yet been set.

The town of Clermont in April filed a motion for a temporary and permanent injunction, seeking for a judge to stop county plans for a Nopone Road library branch in North Hall.

Clermont council members maintained that the Nopone Road plans violated the purpose of a voter-approved special purpose sales tax. The town has maintained it was sold on the sales tax with a promise for a library in Clermont.

Hall County says it made no such guarantees in the SPLOST package.

The first judge assigned to the case, Jason Deal, disqualified himself from hearing it before a recusal motion was filed.

In his written order, Deal did not give a reason for disqualifying himself other than to say it was to “avoid any appearance of the absence of impartiality.”

If the Gwinnett County judge grants the plaintiffs’ request to recuse Fuller from the case, it would likely be assigned to a judge outside the Northeastern Judicial Circuit.

If the motion is denied, Fuller will hear the case.

Fuller has been on the bench in cases involving county officials in the past.

Last October Fuller presided over a civil trial that pitted Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver against lender AgGeorgia Farm Credit. Oliver, a shareholder of AgGeorgia, sued the lender on the grounds he didn’t think it was fulfilling its fiduciary duties. He lost the case.