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Jul. 22, 2019
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Judge active on water lawsuit

By Jane Harrison
 
Special Master Paul J. Kelly is devoting time daily in attempt to resolve the water war between Georgia and Florida, according to staff in the federal court office where he is based. This is despite lack of any public filings on the case public docket since March 22.
 
Neither court officials nor attorney generals from either state could give any explanation for the unprecedented delay in the nearly six year legal battle originating with Florida’s lawsuit in Oct. 2013. Florida alleges Georgia hoards water on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint river system, causing ecologic and economic harm downstream in Apalachicola Bay. Lake Lanier is the largest reservoir on the river system shared by the states.
 
Kelly’s most recent posting on the case docket is basically a change of address listing for legal parties involved in the case. As of late June, he had not responded to a March 12 Florida request for oral arguments.
 
Special masters are required by law to record procedures, transcripts and correspondence from their cases on a public docket. The docket for Florida v. Georgia is linked to the website of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly, age 78, a 26-year judge with the appellate court based in Santa Fe, N.M., has heard and ruled on several other cases from the court’s six state region.
 
“I know Judge Kelly is not putting it aside,” said Tenth Circuit Appellate Court Clerk Betsy Shumaker. “He’s working actively on it every day.” She added that although her duties focus on the circuit’s cases, she assures that “everything is on the website” regarding the federal case’s orders and procedures. She could not explain the apparent delay in the long-running case.
 
Attorney Jason Dunlap, hired as Kelly’s special assistant, said he is “not free to make comments on the case.” Dunlap’s tenure on the case goes back to its early days when he clerked for former Special Master Ralph Lancaster. The case docket under Lancaster shows activity nearly every two weeks, including monthly transcripts from teleconferences between him and states’ attorneys. His recommendations ultimately were remanded by federal judges, who appointed Kelly to succeed him last August.
 
Since then Kelly has declined to accept additional evidence beyond the millions of pages already submitted electronically and on paper. He indicated he had sufficient evidence to decide the case. However, he posed specific questions to each state regarding water usage, needs and costs. Each has responded and offered counter-arguments, leading to Florida’s request for oral arguments to further plead its case. Georgia submitted no objections to that request.
 
Florida and Georgia attorneys general would not comment on the delay. “We are unable to comment on pending litigation,” responded Katie Byrd, Communication Director for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Kylie Mason, press secretary for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, also declined comment on on-going litigation.

Posted online 6/28/19
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