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Judge grants continuance in right of way legal battle

Matthew Lane • Jan 6, 2020 at 9:00 PM

KINGSPORT — The legal battle between Kingsport and four Ballad Health protesters has been extended for another month following a Monday afternoon ruling by a city court judge.

For more than 250 days, a small group of people has camped outside Holston Valley Medical Center protesting the changes to the hospital's trauma level and NICU. The protesters have used a number of canopies and tarps for shelter, setting up on the right of way — in the grassy area between the sidewalk and West Ravine Road.

In November, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen amended a city ordinance to prohibit temporary or permanent structures from being placed on the public right of way. Last month, four of the protesters were issued citations for violating this ordinance.

Those cited were Dani Cook and Tonya Ferguson of Kingsport and Elminia Dougherty and Jamie Farris of Church Hill.

A hearing on the citations was scheduled to take place on Wednesday in city court. However, Kingsport filed a motion last month to continue the matter until Feb. 12. The protesters filed motions opposing the continuance and on Friday filed their own motion to dismiss.

MOTION TO CONTINUE

During a court hearing Monday afternoon, City Court Judge Curt Rose granted the city's motion to continue. City Attorney Mike Billingsley said the continuance was requested to give him additional time to prepare for the case.

Cook argued the city has had more than enough time to prepare for the case, noting city officials have known about the protest since May and that Billingsley has known about the right-of-way ordinance since October.

Following these brief arguments by both sides, Rose granted the continuance.

“I try and accommodate the city and the people, especially if it's the first time asking for a continuance,” Rose said. “Even if (the city) knew about the protest, it's not unreasonable to grant them time to prepare.”

OTHER MATTERS

Rose also ordered there would be no further citations or fines against the protesters and that Kingsport has until Feb. 5 to file a response to the protesters' motion to dismiss. Rose continued by explaining to the protesters he doesn't have broad powers like higher court judges and that he can't strike down city ordinances.

Rose did ask Cook about a comment she made to the media in December — that if not for the passage of this right-of-way ordinance, the protest would have wound down by Christmas.

Cook said there was a plan on transforming and progressing the protest and that there have been conversations of what that would look like. Cook continued by saying a repeal of the right-of-way ordinance is irrelevant at this point.