Shashy rules G’boro ballot box opened; Cook in Contempt?

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 10, 2005

GREENSBORO–Judge William Shashy has issued a ruling in the Greensboro mayor’s election contest, and in the wake of that decision one city official may find herself coming before the court as well.

In a blow for current Greensboro mayor J.B. Washington, Shashy granted a motion by contestant Vanessa Hill asking that the ballots cast in the September mayor’s race be made available for inspection by both parties. Shashy ordered the ballots turned over to the state Attorney General’s office, which will “hold them,” according to the ruling, until the date agreed upon by both parties for the inspection.

Shashy ruled the transferring of the ballots the responsibility of Greensboro City Clerk Lorrie Cook, who was mandated by court order to “immediately give to the Attorney General of Alabama any and all ballots involved in the election…including, but not limited to any affidavits, envelopes, and related material.”

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Although details remain very sketchy, Cook’s compliance with that order may not have been “immediate” enough. Another order issued Friday afternoon by Shashy reads that “It is hereby Ordered that Lorrie Cook, City Clerk of Greensboro, Alabama, show cause why she should not be held in Contempt for failure to comply with orders of this Court.”

Exactly how Cook might have failed to comply is unknown at this time. Contacted at Greensboro City Hall Friday afternoon, Cook said she was unaware of either the order for her to hand over the ballots to the Attorney General or the order asking her to show cause in avoidance of Contempt.

“I don’t know about anything that’s going on,” she said, and declined further comment.

Officials in the Attorney General’s office were unavailable for comment on what, if any, actions had been taken Friday regarding the case.

Hill attorney Walter Braswell of Birmingham said that Hill’s party was “pleased” with the ruling.

“This bring us one step closer to establishing the truth of this election, one way or the other,” he said. “which is in the best interests of everybody in the community.”

That truth, Braswell says, will be established by the inspection of the ballots and the subsequent trial of the contest. Shashy has ruled that a “Special Master”–an appointed court official Braswell compares to an “umpire” in the case–will oversee the inspection process.

Shashy has appointed James Anderson to serve the role in this case. Anderson, who is ordered to “proceed expeditiously” by the ruling, will arrange with the two parties a date and location for all three to meet for the inspection of the ballots. That inspection must occur, according to the ruling, within 30 days.

“What we’re looking for,” Braswell said, “are ballots that were cast by ineligible or non-existent voters. Voters whose listed residence is a vacant lot or an abandoned residence, or people who live in the county outside the city limits. Possibly votes that were cast in the name of a voter that were not cast by that voter themselves.”

Hill’s party will have seven days following inspection to provide the court and the opposing party with the list of votes they will challenge in court. If they can prove in trial that the number of invalid votes cast for Washington is greater than his margin of victory, the election result would overturn.

“We believe,” Braswell says, “that there are so many like that that they will reverse the outcome. If we’re right, Ms. Hill is the legitimate mayor. If not, we’ll wish mayor Washington the best.”

“Whoever has the job,” Braswell says, “they have a big task in moving the community forward…this thing has gone on and on. Everybody involved deserves a resolution.”