A judge has awarded Craig Lutz attorney’s fees in his challenge of a petition to recall his election to the Hall County Board of Commissioners last year.
Barring a successful appeal, Kevin Kanieski, chairman of the effort to recall Lutz, will have to pay $12,587.96 to Lutz’s lawyer, Paul Stanley, according to an order filed in Hall County Superior Court by Judge Tom Davis.
Stanley provided a copy of the order at the request of The Times.
The amount awarded is exactly what Lutz requested following a successful challenge to the petition last year.
Lutz requested Kanieski pay his attorney fees, citing discussions on Facebook in which members of the effort to recall the commissioner stated a desire to make the “entire process expensive and painful ... personally” for Lutz.
Kanieski has shied away from commenting on the case.
The effort to recall Lutz didn’t last long. Kanieski garnered 229 signatures in favor of an election to recall Lutz, who was installed as a commissioner in January 2011.
But Kanieski withdrew the petition a week after Lutz challenged it in court. He also never presented evidence in support of the application, called witnesses to testify or responded to Lutz’s allegations that the application was “grossly inadequate,” according to court documents.
In a hearing on whether Kanieski should have to pay the costs of Lutz’s legal challenge, Kanieski also said little more than he felt he was exercising his rights to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.
In a three-page ruling, Davis does express a “concern about the chilling effect an award of fees might have on those legitimately exercising their right to seek recall of elected officials.”
But he also said that Kanieski, by choosing to exercise his rights to free speech through legal action, subjected himself to legal scrutiny.
“This Court does not have the means or the authority to decide whether or not the citizens of Hall County might have legitimate reasons and cause to attempt a recall of Commissioner Lutz,” Davis wrote. “The Court must decide the question of attorney fees by considering the application for recall that was (underlined) filed and that (underlined) application displayed such a complete absence of any justiciable issue of law or fact, that it could not be reasonably believed that a court would accept the application and send it forward.”