Nuwaubians win appeals court
Macon Telegraph/November 11, 2000
By Rob Peecher
A Georgia Court of Appeals decision will prevent Putnam
County from suing members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of
Moors for damages in the ongoing zoning and building permit
lawsuit. The Oct. 25 decision also handed the fraternal
organization one of its first victories in the group's
three-year battle with county officials.
Ralph Goldberg, the attorney representing the more than 200
Nuwaubians named as defendants in the suit, said Friday the
end to the lawsuit may be in sight. "We are now on the way
to finishing this up," Goldberg said. "The part (of the
appellate court's decision) that I care about, the court of
appeals gutted the county's case - it dismissed all the
damage actions." Frank Ford, the attorney representing the
county, said the county will not appeal.
But Ford was not as confident that the issue has reached an
end. Much of the dispute, and the resulting court
proceedings, has centered around a structure permitted in
1997 as a storage building. The county contends the storage
building was turned into a nightclub against county zoning
laws and in violation of the initial building permit.
"This is not going to be over until the nightclub is
resolved," Ford said. "That's not a legal analysis, that's
just common sense. ... (The Nuwaubians) want that nightclub,
and we contend it's simply not authorized under our
ordinance. It's that simple." However, the court's decision
does "narrow the issues," Ford said. "All of our cases
against the Nuwaubians have been for injunctive relief, and
they're all left preserved," Ford said.
Ford said the county will most likely seek to have the
courts order the injunctions against the Nuwaubians made
permanent, forcing them to obey the county's zoning
ordinances or be in contempt of court orders if they do not.
The county also has civil claims against the Nuwaubians
under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act which were not considered by the Georgia
Court of Appeals.
The county contends that the Nuwaubians, as a group, have
shown a pattern of violating the zoning ordinance. Under
Georgia RICO, the county may attempt to get money damages
against some of the Nuwaubians.
"It may be we don't even pursue that," Ford said. "We need
to figure out where to go now that this decision is in. We
may end up abandoning all money damages claims, but I'm not
prepared to say that right now."
Goldberg said he is optimistic the RICO case against his
clients will be unsuccessful if pursued. The October
decision does allow the county to recover attorney's fees in
If the Nuwaubians were to apply for a planned development
under the county's zoning ordinance, they would be able to
end most of the lawsuits and most likely build what they
want on the group's 476-acre property west of Eatonton, Ford
"We've suggested that several times and been rebuffed when
we have," he said. "That has always been their best remedy.
In the past, members of the group have said the planned
development zoning application would force them to "jump
through hoops" they would rather avoid.