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Former strip club owner Steven E. Kaplan called Atlanta a “bum-f—” town. Nashville author Alice Randall called the late Atlanta author Margaret Mitchell a racist. A.W. “Bill” Dahlberg, who retired in February as chief executive officer and chairman of the Southern Co., said he “had no earthly idea” that anyone would still consider a hangman’s noose to be a racial symbol. These statements surfaced in some of the more provocative cases that were litigated in U.S. District Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. The criminal trial that ended last August in the demise of Atlanta’s most infamous strip joint, the Gold Club, had it all — sex, drugs, celebrities, sex, mobsters, strippers and, well, sex. Before the four-month trial ended, defense attorney Bruce S. Harvey had performed a courtroom table dance. Kaplan had been viewed on video bragging that he made so much money at his nude dance club, “it’s sick.” A parade of imprisoned, self-acknowledged thugs described how they worked up a sweat during extended torture sessions and stalked and shot mothers with their children. Patrick Ewing and Andruw Jones sheepishly took the witness stand to describe their sexual liaisons with club dancers. Midway through the trial, Gold Club owner Kaplan entered a surprise guilty plea to a single racketeering count and agreed to forfeit the club and $5 million to the government. U.S. v. Kaplan, No. 1:99-cr-609 (N.D. Ga. Aug. 2, 2001). All but three of his co-defendants subsequently pleaded guilty to misdemeanors or minor felonies in return for probation. Two others were acquitted of all charges. Charges against another defendant were dismissed. And the club went out of business when federal marshals padlocked it on Aug. 3. The Gold Club wasn’t the only federal Atlanta case that garnered national attention. Last February, SunTrust Bank — on behalf of the trusts that administered Margaret Mitchell’s estate — sued Nashville, Tenn., writer Alice Randall and Houghton Mifflin Co., claiming that Randall’s book, “The Wind Done Gone,” violated the copyright of “Gone With the Wind.” During the litigation, the public learned that in Randall’s book, Scarlett is black and has a mulatto half-sister, Ashley’s gay, and Belle Watling is running a house of prostitution filled with lesbians. “This is funny stuff, your honor,” wrote author Pat Conroy to U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr., “and far, far funnier that it is being held up in court by the overzealous guardians of the rapacious Margaret Mitchell estate.” Pannell decided to halt publication of Randall’s book. He quickly was overturned from the bench by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit, which later formally reversed and remanded the case. SunTrust v. Houghton Mifflin Co., No. 01-12200 (11th Cir. Oct. 10, 2001). Nor was “The Wind Done Gone” the only case where racial divisiveness became an issue. Georgia Power spent 2001 fighting a potential class action that was filed last year by seven black employees. The employees alleged that the gripping images of hangman’s nooses that had dangled in Georgia Power plants across the state illustrated the dark side of a “Southern style” cultivated by a company that short-changed its black employees. Cooper v. Southern Co. No. 00-cv-2231 (N.D. Ga. April 2, 2001). Attorneys for the Southern Co., the parent company of Georgia Power, insisted that the nooses weren’t intended to be offensive. In October, U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans denied class certification to the plaintiffs. Among the other significant federal cases this year: U.S. ex rel McLendon v. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., No. 99-cv-3295 (D.C. Feb. 22, 2001). Atlanta whistleblower Donald S. McLendon, a former health care executive, secured $28 million, part of $745 million in civil penalties and damages that Tennessee-based hospital giant HCA-The Healthcare Co. (formerly Columbia-HCA) agreed to pay two years ago. HCA settled the case after it was sued in multiple jurisdictions across the country for committing Medicare fraud. The cases were eventually consolidated in federal court in Washington. McLendon’s Atlanta attorney, Marlan B. Wilbanks, reached a separate agreement regarding McLendon with U.S. Justice Department attorneys last February. McLendon was formerly executive vice president at Atlanta-based Olsten Health Management, a subsidiary of the Olsten Corp., which is headquartered in New York. McLendon reported to the Justice Department that his firm had joined with HCA in perpetuating a massive scheme to defraud Medicare. Abdallah v. Coca-Cola, No. 1:98-cv-3679 (N.D. Ga. June 7, 2001). After more than three years of litigation, the Coca-Cola Co.’s $192.5 million settlement with 2,000 of its current and former employees was approved by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story in June. Story said in his order that the settlement benefits for the plaintiffs and the class were a “result superior to what could be ordered by the court, even after a successful trial establishing liability on every issue.” Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia, Nos. 00-1430, 00-14382 (11th Cir. Aug. 27, 2001). A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit declared the University of Georgia admissions policy to be unconstitutional. Calling the constitutional viability of using race to diversify a collegiate student body “an open question,” the panel suggested that the issue warranted consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Georgia attorney general decided not to appeal that ruling. The decision sidestepped the question of whether the goal of student body diversity is a compelling enough reason to consider race in the admissions process. But the appellate panel said UGA’s practice of awarding an “arbitrary” diversity bonus to nonwhite applicants violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Van Etten v. Bridgestone/Firestone, No. 00-14519 (11th Cir. Aug. 29, 2001). A panel of the 11th Circuit denied a request by some of the nation’s largest media outlets to open sealed court records pertaining to Bridgestone/Firestone tires. The three-judge panel vacated a September 2000 ruling by U.S. District Senior Judge Anthony A. Alaimo that would have opened the records in a South Georgia wrongful death suit to the news media. The media suit was prompted by a massive recall last year of Bridgestone/Firestone tires. The 1997 Georgia suit was sealed after Bridgestone/Firestone settled privately with the family of a teen-ager who died when the left rear tire of the Ford Explorer he was driving peeled away and caused the sports utility vehicle to crash. Greater Atlanta Home Builders v. City of Atlanta, No. 1:01-cv-2633 (N.D. Ga. Oct. 3, 2001). Two months ago, Atlanta real estate developers sued the city, claiming it has misappropriated at least $20 million in development impact fees as well as an untold amount of state and federal matching funds. The Southeastern Legal Foundation has teamed with former Georgia Attorney General Michael J. Bowers of Meadows, Ichter & Trigg to challenge the city on behalf of the developers. The suit claims the city has routinely violated state law in allocating impact fees by rechanneling the money to less prosperous sections of the city. Developers want the city to keep the money in the neighborhoods where it is collected. In an interview with the Fulton County Daily Report, prior to her election as mayor, Shirley C. Franklin said that, if elected, she would favor settling the case as opposed to pursuing it in court.

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