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Former employees, bars sue over new Michaels Law
Law a response to 2014 beating death of South Forsyth grad
District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan drafted legislation that passed as Michael's Law earlier this year. - photo by FCN file photo

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It appears there will be a legal challenge to a law named in memory of a slain South Forsyth High School grad.

Attorneys representing former workers and an association of bars in Athens have filed a suit against the state over Michael’s Law, which went into effect on July 1. Named for South grad Michael Gatto, who was beaten to death at a bar in Statesboro during his freshman year in 2014 at Georgia Southern University, a key component of the law is prohibiting anyone under 21 from working as a bouncer.

The man charged with Gatto’s murder was 20 at the time of the incident.

Adam Hoipkemier, of the law firm Epps, Holloway, DeLoach and Hoipkemier in Watkinsville, called the law unconstitutional and said it unfairly targets those ages 18-21 and puts a strain on them financially.

“We’re challenging the law as part of the equal protection and due process clauses of the United States Constitution, because we believe it unconstitutionally discriminates against employees and infringes on their fundamental rights to work without any rational basis,” Hoipkemier said.

Attorney’s fees are also being sought, as well as “any further relief that is just and appropriate.”

District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan, who sponsored the law, said the challenge wasn’t a surprise.

Duncan said he received support from both parties for the law and is confident in its legality.

“Absolutely, it’s their right to let the court’s take a second peak at it, make sure the legislative intent of the law is what’s being carried out, and I think we’ll get a good opportunity to see that happen,” he said. “I’ve got good faith in the law and that it’ll stay standing.”

Michael’s Law also defines a bar as any establishment that “derives 75 percent or more total annual gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages” on premises and prohibits anyone under 21 from working as a bouncer or attending a bar unless they are paying admission to attend musical concerts or other live performances.

James Grant Spencer, an off duty bouncer who was 20 at the time, plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter in October and was sentenced to 20 years in prison after a jury found he beat Gatto in the head at Rude Rudy’s a bar near the college’s campus that has since closed.

The suit was filed in Athens-Clarke County, but is being transferred to Fulton County Superior Court. Hoipkemier said no trial date has been set.