On Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua denied vendor Stanley Hambrick’s request that Mayor Kasim Reed and Police Chief George Turner be found in civil contempt of court for not issuing 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.
Hambrick and members of the Atlanta Vendors Association say they will now seek to file criminal contempt charges against the mayor.
The ruling comes just over a month after the court ordered city officials to follow a writ of mandamus by issuing vending permits to qualified Atlanta vendors. Reed appealed the decision and the city has not issued any new permits since. Additionally, Hambrick and previous co-defendant Larry Miller say Turner and the Atlanta Police Department have kept them from operating under threat of arrest.
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 would hold parties responsible for willfully defying a court order with a fine a possibly jail time.
The ordinance passed will allow 31 vendors to operate on public streets in downtown Atlanta in its first phase and in its second phase, which city officials say would begin early next year, more than 50 locations for carts across the city, including on the Atlanta Beltline. The ordinance also requires vendors to own a cart of kiosk, which Miller says will prevent the majority of vendors from being able to work.
City officials also said in the ordinance that vendors will not be allowed to return to the downtown Five Points area, which was previously a very popular location for vendors, but prompted complaints from visitors and Atlanta residents.
Miller called the law a “bunch of malarkey” and vowed to continue the fight.
The vendors battle with the city began in 2009, when then-Mayor Shirley Franklin signed an exclusive 20-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 agreement, which would have kept them from working on the city’s streets or forced them to pay thousands of dollars to GGP. In December 2012, Judge LaGrua struck down the agreement and the law that authorized it.
“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 also denied vendors the permits to which they are lawfully entitled,” said a statement from 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.”
Frommer did not say whether or not the criminal complaint had been filed or when it would be.
Read the court’s ruling here.