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Course lawsuit in the rough
Judges status clouds review
Lanier Golf 3 es
Mike Gillespie chips the ball with friend Mark Rambsburg recently at the driving range at Lanier Golf Course. - photo by File photo
It appears a request seeking class-action status in the lawsuit to stop residential development on Lanier Golf Course is in legal limbo.

In a June ruling, the State Appellate Court said a judge’s decision denying the request must be sent back because the order was based only on the merits of the request for class-action status.

The decision, the court said, failed to address whether each factor of Georgia’s class-action statute had been met.

The initial ruling in September came from visiting Senior Superior Court Judge Albert Pickett of Augusta, who was assigned the case after both local Superior Court judges recused themselves.

And that’s where the uncertainty comes in. Bob McFarland, the local attorney who filed the October 2007 class-action lawsuit and appealed Pickett’s decision, said Pickett can’t change the order because “he’s no longer the judge in the case.”

The practice of using senior judges to help clear court calendars and preside over trials was suspended last year due to the state budget crisis.

McFarland said the order could be sent to the state’s 9th Judicial District, which likely would appoint a judge to continue the case.

“So the first decision is who’s the judge going to be and the next decision is what is the judge going to do to the order,” said McFarland, adding that the process could be lengthy.

“Eventually, hopefully, one day we’ll get to the final issue in the case,” McFarland said.

If class-action status were approved, it would allow some 120 residents who live adjacent to the course to join a lawsuit against the course owners.

Jack Manton, who owns the course with George Bagley Jr., said he thinks the process will take a couple of months, but is confident Pickett’s decision would be upheld.

“There’s not any reason to have any more hearings, no more trials or anything,” Manton said. “It just asked him to further clarify his original finding of facts by doing additional finding of facts.”

Manton and Bagley had plans to sell the course, contingent upon its rezoning, to development company Wellstone.

Wellstone wanted to build a 772-unit residential development that included a 300-unit continuing care retirement community on the golf course site.

Those plans were halted in October 2007 when the Forsyth County commission denied a request to rezone the course from agricultural to a master planned district.

Following the county’s denial, Wellstone joined Manton and Bagley in a legal pursuit to reverse the commission’s decision.  

That lawsuit is still in its preliminary stages, though Wellstone withdrew from the case and abandoned its plans for the site earlier this year when the company relocated to Texas.  

E-mail Julie Arrington at