Retired U.S. Army Col. Don Rehman, a five-year Senoia resident and possibly Senoia City Hall’s most active and vocal critic, had his civil case against City of Senoia thrown out of Coweta County Superior Court late Wednesday morning, but he says Judge Dennis T. Blackmon got it wrong. Rehman says he will now take his petition to Georgia Supreme Court.
Rehman filed a lawsuit against City of Senoia on March 15 hoping a Coweta County Superior Court judge would force the city to reword or remove its law concerning the possession of marijuana. Rehman contends the ordinance could be interpreted in a way that actually requires men to possess an ounce or more of marijuana.
The conflict centers on Senoia’s Code of Ordinances, Section 46-7, which states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to have in his possession less than one ounce of marijuana.” Dating back to 1980, the law, according to city leaders, was added to Senoia’s Code of Ordinances so that misdemeanor marijuana possession charges could be heard in Senoia Municipal Court instead of a higher court. As Blackmon noted in his courtroom remarks, marijuana laws already exist on both the state and federal levels, but when a local government also enacts a similar ordinance, the local court is allowed to hear those misdemeanor cases.
Georgia’s misdemeanor marijuana possession law, Code Section 16-13-2, reads, “Nothwithstanding any law to the contrary, any person who is charged with possession of marijuana, which possession is of one once or less, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and punished by imprisonment for a period not to exceed 12 months or a fine not to exceed $1,000.00, or both, or public works not to exceed 12 months.”
Rehman contends that Senoia’s ordinance should be as clear as the state law. He says Senoia’s ordinance is not only confusing but is also discriminatory. He says that, because the ordinance reads, “in his possession”, it does not require anything of females but only of males. Rehman says that wording reflects an unconstitutional “gender bias”.
Blackmon said he believed Rehman’s motivations for filing a lawsuit against Senoia were based on politics.
“I am positive that you know that there’s a statute in Georgia that makes it illegal to possess more than an ounce of marijuana in Georgia, which includes, by the way, Senoia,” Blackmon told Rehman. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, your honor,” Rehman replied.
“Then what would make you think that the City of Senoia is not within the State of Georgia and therefore can somehow make it mandatory for a person to have more than an ounce of marijuana in their possession?” Blackmon asked. “How is it possible that they have overruled the State of Georgia’s state law? Have they overruled federal law, too? Because federal law prohibits the possession of marijuana. Is that your position?"
Rehman answered Blackmon, saying he did not believe the city law overruled anything, but rather that it had within itself a double meaning.
“I am confused by its wording, because it can be read to mandatorily require possession of marijuana,” Rehman said.
Blackmon said if someone applied “common sense” to interpreting Senoia’s marijuana law, there would be no confusion.
“Are you telling me that I am here, and you got me here and you got all these people here to explain to you what the Senoia ordinance means when it says you can’t possess less than an ounce of marijuana?,” Blackmon angrily asked Rehman. “Are you seriously telling me that that’s why I’m here hearing this case?”
When Rehman tried to respond to Blackmon, Blackmon continued his berating of Rehman.
“Let me tell you something. You have wasted this court’s time,” Blackmon told Rehman. “You have wasted all these people’s time. I do not know what possessed you to come into this court with something this ridiculous.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever had in court, ever,” Blackmon continued. “And you’re taking time to do this and causing all these people problems, and I’ve got serious things to do. This court does very serious things, not silly, ridiculous things.”
Blackmon granted Senoia City Attorney Andrew Whalen’s request to have the case dismissed. Blackmon cited several reasons for doing so, including what he called Rehman’s lack of legal standing.
“You have no personal stake in the outcome of this case,” Blackmon said. “You have not been arrested for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana.”
Earlier in the hearing, Whalen told the judge that the city, if successful in having the case thrown out of court, would also petition the court to order Rehman to pay all of the city’s legal expenses in its defense of the lawsuit.
“For all of these reasons and many more, this case is dismissed in its entirety,” Blackmon told Rehman. “And I will certainly hear the case concerning attorney’s fees if it’s raised at a later date. Good day.”
As of press time, Rehman said he did not yet know how much the legal fees would run.
Rehman did say the fight was not over yet.
“I respectfully believe that the court made an error by dismissing my civil action,” Rehman stated Thursday in an e-mailed response to Wednesday’s court hearing. “And its determination of the grounds for dismissal were not in consonance with a June 8, 2009 Supreme Court of Georgia decision on Petition for Mandamus matters, which the court had in hand when it made its ruling yesterday.
“Although I will now be made to suffer the financial consequences of having taken the matter to court, at least my conscience can be at ease,” Rehman continued, “because of the satisfaction of ‘a promise made to the public in a campaign for public office must be a promise kept, no matter whether the candidate wins or loses that election.’”
Rehman was referring to the fact that, in 2010, he unsuccessfully challenged Senoia City Councilman Jeffrey Fischer for his city council seat. When asked by this newspaper if he intends to again seek political office in Senoia, Rehman said he would not like to answer that question.
Rehman says he simply wants this marijuana ordinance cleared up.
Rehman wrote, “This ordinance should be reworded to say, ‘It shall be unlawful for any person to have marijuana in their possession, and they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor if the marijuana amount in possession is one ounce or less.’”
Rehman said his plan to appeal to Georgia Supreme Court is “not because I am stubborn and refuse to admit local defeat at the hands of the Senoia mayor, four Senoia councilmen and their city attorney.” He said his motivation is that “one must have faith in the hope that wrongs can still be righted somewhere in today’s American system of ‘Justice for All’ that we all recite in our nation’s ‘Pledge of Allegiance’.”
Rehman said he was unsure whether he would act as his own attorney when approaching Georgia Supreme Court. “I may seek legal advice on that,” he said.