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Aug. 22, 2019
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Special Master has other legal callings, Florida and Georgia wait

By Jane Harrison
 
The senior federal judge overseeing the near 6-year-old Florida v. Georgia lawsuit over water apparently has other legal callings. While Florida and Georgia awaited Special Master Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr.’s response to a March 12 request for oral arguments, the judge heard at least three cases in Albuquerque and Roswell, NM.
 
Kelly, age 78, 26-year judge on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Santa Fe, sat in on and issued orders with other justices in an appeal of a drug conspiracy case April 25, an immigration appeal May 6, and fourth amendment violation case May 13. Summaries of the cases appeared in an opinions archive from late April through mid-May on the appellate court’s website.
 
As of May 20, Kelly's most recent order on the Florida v. Georgia docket appeared March 22, basically an address list for e-filing case documents. 
 
The long-running lawsuit stems from Florida’s accusation in Oct. 2013 that Georgia uses more than its share of water from a river basin that flows from the Georgia mountains to the Florida panhandle. Lake Lanier is the largest reservoir on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system that is regulated by U.S. Corps of Engineers dams.
 
Kelly, known for straight-forwardness and punctually, was appointed Special Master last August after Supreme Court justices asked him to take over after they remanded the recommendations of former appointee Ralph Lancaster.
 
In the months that followed, Kelly told states’ attorneys he already had enough evidence to decide the case, but asked them to answer specific questions. He left open the possibility for brief oral arguments. After states submitted findings, supplemental briefs and rebuttals, Florida asked Kelly for a chance to argue its case. The public docket showed no response from Georgia or Kelly by late May. The docket also offers no hint at why there is an apparent delay.
 
Since he is a federal judge, Kelly’s pay as special master is covered by the federal government, rather than Florida and Georgia. However, both states still must pay their own attorneys for time spent on the case. Each has spent in excess of $40 million in the on-going litigation.

Posted online 5/28/19
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