Contests of elections temporarily delayed

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2005

The contests of last September’s Greensboro and Marion mayor’s elections have hit judicial delays.

Last Monday, May 9, Circuit Judge William Shashy ruled that Vanessa Hill’s contest of J.B. Washington’s election to the Greensboro mayor’s office could proceed despite questions regarding Hill’s timely posting of a court-costs security bond.

But he also decided that before moving ahead to the case’s “discovery” phase, in which the two sides would inspect the ballots cast for illegalities, that Hill and Washington’s attorneys would need to argue whether or not Hill’s party should have to show evidence of illegal voting before proceeding.

Shashy asked for those arguments in legal briefs to be faxed to his office Wednesday, with a ruling to come Friday, he said.

However, no ruling came. A law clerk in Shashy’s office stated late Friday afternoon that no court order had been issued, and that none would be forthcoming that day. No timetable has been set for when the ruling might appear.

This may frustrate Greensboro residents who have endured slow progress in the case since Hill first promised the contest on election night last September 14. However, Hill’s Birmingham attorney Walter Braswell says that not only does the delay change nothing about the case other than how fast it proceeds, the ruling itself makes little difference to his client’s case at this point.

“It doesn’t matter,” Braswell said Friday. “We have 175 individuals whose votes we’ve identified as suspect. If the judge asks for ‘prima facia’ evidence, there’s a valid reason, for every one of those individuals, to look at their ballot and the associated materials. We can live with that. It’s just a matter of how rapidly the case proceeds.”

Braswell said last Monday that he would prefer to not present any ‘prima facia’ evidence, however, due to the possibility of suggesting publicly that an innocent voter had voted illegally.

Braswell also said Friday that, despite Shashy’s statements Monday, he was not surprised by the lack of a court order Friday. Since Shashy serves on the Montgomery judicial circuit (he was appointed to the case after other judges recused themselves), Braswell expected that his “regular caseload” would take precedence while the judge was in Montgomery.

By the time Shashy’s office had confirmed no ruling would be available Friday, Washington’s attorney, William M. Pompey of Camden, had left his office for the day and was unavailable for comment.

In the Black Belt’s other mayoral contest, James Barnes, attorney for current Marion mayor Anthony J. Long, confirmed that the Marion contest has been re-scheduled to go to trial July 26. The court order from Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins permitting the inspection of the Marion ballot box–the same type of order sought by Braswell and Hill–had originally established the trial date as May 16.

Barnes had said previously that an extension of the discovery process could lead to the trial being delayed.