By John Schaffner
Buckhead lawyer and taxpayer advocate John Woodham in a matter of days recently was ordered to reimburse the Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) and two co-defendants for legal fees they spent defending one lawsuit while he refiled another lawsuit against the Development Authority of Fulton County.
In both cases, Woodham was fighting bond financing related to major developments in Buckhead.
Woodham and the ADA have been locked in a legal dispute spreading over several cases. He has challenged the legality of lease-purchase bonds — a tool used by development authorities as an incentive for business investment — approved the past two years by both the ADA and the Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC).
Both authorities have defended the bonds as legitimate and vital economic development tools.
In the first case, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson ruled in favor of the ADA and its co-defendants, 13th Street Holdings LLC and Mezzo Development LLC, both affiliated with Georgia-based real estate and investment firm Tivoli Properties Inc., a condominium developer.
On Nov. 17, Woodham and Citizens for Ethics in Government intervened in two bond validation proceedings, attempting to block the issuance of bonds related to two commercial developments for rental housing and retail services.
On June 30, Johnson ruled that Woodham and Citizens for Ethics in Government must reimburse more than $430,000 in attorneys’ fees incurred by the ADA and its co-defendants as a result of Woodham’s intervention. Johnson’s fee award was based on a ruling May 21 that Woodham and Citizens for Ethics in Government intervened in the bond validation proceedings for an “improper purpose” and that Woodham’s conduct was in “bad faith” and “unethical” because he offered to withdraw his intervention in the lawsuit for $1.3 million.
According to court documents, Woodham responded that he intended to ask for only $130,000 and that the money was to go to a homeless shelter, not for his personal use.
In the case against the DAFC — which challenges bond financing for a series of major Buckhead hotels and office buildings — Woodham recently withdrew and then refiled the lawsuit in a timing issue.
Woodham’s suit questions tax abatements of up to 50 percent that the development authority approved the past two years for properties including The Mansion on Peachtree hotel and condo project and the Terminus complex in Buckhead, as well as 55 Allen Plaza in downtown Atlanta.
In a news release, authority Chairman Robert Shaw said such large capital projects are vital in expanding the tax base and creating jobs, particularly in a recession.
Cary Ichter, who represents the authority in the lawsuit, said Woodham’s case was weakened by new state legislation this year that expressly authorizes the abatements. “It’s an endorsement by the legislature that these transactions are perfectly proper,” Ichter said.