July 26, 2010, was one of the most liberty-affirming moments of my life. I was present when after eight years of litigation, a federal jury unanimously agreed Atlanta businessman Billy Corey had been intentionally discriminated against by the City of Atlanta. It started in 2002, when Corey — a self-made businessman from humble beginnings in Atlanta’s Cabbagetown neighborhood — was denied a contract to supply advertising resources inside Atlanta’s airport.
Corey played by the rules. He’d offered to pay the city 11 percent more revenue than the airport’s longtime vendor. The problem — as the federal jury later confirmed — was that Corey’s bid threatened to unseat the contract incumbent Barbara Fouch; a former model and Beverly Hills, Calif., resident, who at the time of being awarded the deal — had absolutely no airport advertising credentials. What she did have, was connections to City Hall. Court testimony showed she was literally handed her share of the contract back in 1980, through her friendship with then-Mayor Maynard Jackson.
Corey played by the rules. He collected evidence proving his bid was wrongly denied, and sued. This was no small undertaking. Fighting city hall comes with a price. You see, the city has unlimited resources — the taxpay-ers’ pockets. Mr. Corey — understanding the scope of what he was fighting for — made a $5 million investment; and on July 26, 2010, it seemed to have finally paid off. Atlanta’s unfair denial of his bid was so obvious that District Judge Charles Pannell described the city’s actions against Corey as “evil.” There were tears in the courtroom when, after eight long years, the jury delivered Mr. Corey justice and a $17.5 million verdict.
Last week, the sky turned green. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that despite overwhelming evidence, Mr. Corey didn’t deserve the protection of the U.S. Constitution. Why? Mr. Corey is not part of a protected “class” of Americans. You see, federal judges follow a code called precedent. If it hasn’t happened before, judges are extremely reluctant to create a “first.” In the past 50 years, federal judges have agreed to protect Americans based on age, sex, race, national origin, disability and religious affiliation. Those are our current “protected classes.” The tragedy is the three-judge panel ruled it should not spend its time protecting everyday citizens like Billy Corey, even if, as the court wrote, “it is true that the (bid) loss was based on subjective and arbitrary factors.”
As for the jury wanting to rectify that corrupted Atlanta bid process, the court added, “The letting of municipal contracts ought not (sic) regularly be the start of a federal case… Governments must have more leeway than that in conducting bid processes for their contracts.”
Yes, Atlanta — with its rich history of bid rigging and airport contract corruption, in this court’s opinion, needs MORE “leeway” in conducting bid processes.
It’s no small coincidence Atlanta is caught up in another round of controversy regarding airport contacts. Once again, the city has awarded millions to connected individuals in the name of protecting disadvantaged businesses; only for the public to discover after the fact — the contracts were awarded to incredibly wealthy, politically connected individuals who fail to meet the disadvantaged standard. Even more frightening, is the precedent this court’s decision HAS created… What citizen will dare spend $5 million and eight years fighting for his or your constitutional rights — when a three judge panel can wipe out a unanimous jury verdict — delivered by everyday Americans?
God bless Billy Corey, and how he tried to protect us — from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
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