Arlington, Va.—Today, Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court denied Stanley Hambrick’s request that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner be found in contempt of court for flagrantly ignoring a judicial order that they issue permits allowing street vendors to return to work. The court held that a new vending law—passed last week just minutes before a hearing on the contempt motion—made Hambrick’s request moot.
The ruling comes just over a month after the court ordered city officials to follow the law by issuing vending permits to qualified Atlanta vendors. But like two separate rulings before, Mayor Reed defied this order by refusing to process vending applications by Hambrick and others, while threatening vendors with jail if they dared to set up and try to earn a living.
Although the court held that the new vending law mooted Hambrick’s request that the mayor be found in civil contempt, the judge’s ruling does not close the door to the mayor being held in criminal contempt. Civil contempt is intended to coerce future compliance with a court’s order, while criminal contempt is backwards looking and is meant to punish those who have willfully defied an order.
“Rather than follow the court’s clear October ruling by allowing vendors to return to work, Mayor Reed ignored it until he could strong-arm a new vending law through the city council. His actions not only flouted the court’s authority and the rule of law, but denied vendors the permits to which they are lawfully entitled,” said attorney Robert Frommer of the Institute for Justice, which represents the vendors. “This lawlessness is the very definition of criminal contempt, and the Institute for Justice will continue to press for justice for Atlanta’s vendors by filing a motion seeking criminal sanctions against Mayor Reed.”
The vendors battle with the city began in 2009, when then-Mayor Shirley Franklin signed an exclusive twenty-year contract that handed over all street vending in Atlanta to a multi-billion-dollar Chicago company, General Growth Properties (GGP). Atlanta vendors joined with the Institute for Justice and filed suit to strike down the vending scheme, which would have thrown them out of work—or forced them to pay thousands of dollars to GGP. In December 2012, Judge LaGrua struck down the scheme and the law that authorized it.
Rather than accept the court’s ruling, Mayor Reed illegally shut down all street vending citywide, throwing dozens of vendors out of work right before the Braves’ opening day and the NCAA Final Four. Mayor Reed’s crackdown devastated Atlanta’s vendors, many of whom have struggled to put food on their tables due to his illegal tactics.
“There is no more sacred American right than the right to earn an honest living,” said Frommer. “And the Institute for Justice will restore that right to Atlanta vendors no matter how many court rulings it takes.”