Hill challenge awaits new judge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 6, 2004

GREENSBORO –

Like mayors all across the state, J.B. Washington was sworn into office Monday in Hale County’s capital city.

Washington will serve in the mayor’s capacity until a judge decides whether or not his election is valid based on a challenge file by candidate Vanessa Hill, who won the popular vote at the polls but lost after absentee ballot totals were added to the election.

Hill contends many of those absentee ballots were fraudulently cast.

However, the case may be on hold until the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts appoints a judge to hear the case.

“We made the request to AOC to assign somebody,” said Judge Jack Meigs. “We all signed the order last week and [AOC] will have to contact a judge and the chief justice will appoint somebody.”

In fact, Meigs and his two counterparts in the Fourth Judicial Circuit – Judge Marvin Wayne Wiggins and Judge Tommy Jones – have recused themselves from the case, but Meigs said that wasn’t out of the ordinary.

“Generally it’s something that’s done [throughout Alabama],” he said, citing that when judges must themselves run for office, they all develop “ties” to the parties involved in an election challenge.

“Different judges have different ties, but my experience is you get a judge from outside the circuit [to hear an election dispute] – it’s just commonly done in Alabama but I can’t speak for everybody,” he said.

Hill said not having a local judge didn’t concern her, although she said she didn’t readily see a conflict of interest for any judge except Wiggins, whose sister is Hale County Circuit Clerk Gay Nell Tinker.

“I’m well with it [but] we need a judge,” she said.

Meigs said the state’s chief justice could appoint either an active circuit or district judge or a retired judge to hear the case.

Katie Mann, who schedules judges for AOC, said an appointment of a judge to hear the dispute would come this week.

“I expect an appointment pretty quick,” Meigs said.

By law, Washington will serve as mayor unless a court order overturns the election.