A Fulton County Superior Judge has ruled that descendants of a Confederate veteran buried at a historic cemetery can intervene in a lawsuit that could open the property to development.

On Jan. 30, Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams signed an order granting the request of 28 descendants of Judge John Heard to join the suit.

Heard, who is buried at the Heard Family Cemetery, in 1900 executed a deed with the intent to protect the 1-acre graveyard at 0 Heards Drive aside from future development.

More than 100 years later, the property left the Heard family and became the property of local attorney, Christopher Mills. He bought the property from his in-laws in 2012 who obtained it after it accidentally wound up on Fulton County’s delinquent tax list.

The in-laws, Wanda and Henry Cline, in 2007 paid the back taxes as part of a neighborhood effort to save the property. In 2012, Mills sued the city of Sandy Springs after officials denied his permit to build on a portion of the property that he says doesn’t contain graves.

Mills’ lawsuit attracted media attention and the notoriety caught the attention of a Heard descendant, Larry Specht. Soon more descendants came forward. Attorney Wright Mitchell signed on to represent the family members and Mills did not object when he filed his motion to intervene.

In his response to the motion to intervene, Mills says he obtained an archeological survey marking the cemetery boundaries.  In the motion to intervene filed in November, the 28 descendants say there has not been a “thorough and complete survey” to determine if graves exist outside of those boundaries.

“The descendants, now that they have been formally admitted into the case, intend to vigorously prosecute their interest in the cemetery and defend their right to maintain it as the Heard family cemetery,” Mitchell said.

Mills and his lawyer, Christopher M. Porterfield, asked the judge to throw out the descendant’s claim that Mills trespassed on the property. Adams order said “the court reserves the right” to rule on the trespass claim at a later date.

Mills has declined to comment on the case. Attempts to contact Porterfield for comment were not successful Feb.1.

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011-2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com