Marion Mayor’s verdict could be 45 days away

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2005

MARION-As far as courtroom arguments are concerned, the trial concerning the challenge of last year’s Marion Mayor’s election has come to a close. However, the trial itself is far from over.

Late Thursday afternoon Robert Turner, who is representing challenger Robert Bryant and Jim Barnes, who is representing current mayor Tony Long felt they could wind the trial down by noon Friday. They were right on target.

Now, for the next 45 days both attorneys will work to submit their briefs to Judge Marvin Wiggins. In the mean time, Wiggins will use the break to take a closer look at the evidence and put a decision together.

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During Friday’s proceedings both parties filed a motion for directive verdict, which requests a judgment based on the evidence presented. Wiggins denied both motions leaving the trial at its current state.

Barnes said he feels confident about the case he presented. He said when the smoke clears the judge would allow the contested votes in Long’s favor to stand.

“I feel really good about it,” Barnes said. “Some of the grounds that they challenged ballots such as P.O. Boxes and the residents address on the application and affidavit, I just don’t think those people’s votes should not count.”

Barnes said he also felt they had made a strong argument against some of the ballots filed in Bryant’s favor. Barnes said when the arguments were presented they felt it necessary to fight fire with fire and through the process had built a strong case on many of these ballots.

“I don’t think it is right, but if they are going to try to kick some of Long’s out of course we are going to try to kick some of Bryant’s out,” Barnes said. “I don’t agree with Mr. Turner’s evidence as far as whether or not it should be declared illegal.”

Turner said he felt he had around 170 votes he had proven to be illegal. However, Barnes said he felt they had proven around 130 to be illegal.

Turner said many of the ballots put into question by Barnes did not hold up when presented as evidence.

“We felt that most of the testimony they submitted was hearsay and should not be admitted,” Turner said. “They did not prove that any of the people who voted for Mr. Bryant were from outside Marion or Perry County.”

Though there were extensive arguments on both sides, no ballots have been discounted yet. Barnes said Wiggins had not made any rulings in regard to which ballots would stay and which would go to this point.

“He didn’t make any rulings from the bench as far as saying this vote is kicked out,” Barnes said. “He has not thrown any out yet. He really hasn’t made the determination of which, if any votes for either side would be thrown out.”

Barnes said he also felt throughout the week some of the evidence brought into the case by Bryant’s legal team should have been inadmissible. Barnes often referred to a “scatter gun approach” used by Turner to keep his arguments off balance.

“We don’t feel like all their evidence was admissible because they gave us such broad notice,” Barnes said. “They gave us a list of 630 names and the notice requirement is designed to provide a level playing field. It was a situation where we didn’t know exactly where they were coming from until we got into the trial and then it is too late.”

Barnes also felt in many cases the evidence presented by Turner did not comply with notice requirements, was not filed correctly and should not have been admitted. Barnes said the trial should have been dismissed from the beginning.

On the other side, Turner said he planned to get to work right away on his brief. He said when the time came his brief would be ready. He said he also felt the evidence in the case would be enough to allow Wiggins to rule in Bryant’s favor.

“Our brief will be prepared and submitted, hopefully before the judge can make a ruling,” Turner said. “We think that once he takes a look at the evidence he will be able to make a ruling in Mr. Bryant’s favor.”

Turner said worst-case scenario, there would be another election and best-case scenario, Bryant will take office following the ruling.

“The best case scenario would be for Mr. Bryant to be seated,” Turner said. “If the judge finds in his favor he would be seated immediately and even if there were an appeal the rightful mayor would remain in office.”

Turner also said he felt strongly the evidence he had presented would hold up. He said when Wiggins reviewed the evidence he would throw out the necessary votes to put Bryant in office.

“We feel that of the 170 pieces of evidence we put in a great many will be subtracted from Tony Long’s total,” Turner said. “We also feel that a very miniscule amount they submitted to be taken away from Mr. Bryant’s total will be taken.”

There was one element of the case that left Turner very disappointed. Turner said he felt the election and trial had been ignored by local organizations whose primary purpose was to fight voter fraud in the Black Belt. He said he was extremely disappointed in these groups and questioned their true motivation.

“I am disappointed to see that the organizations who say they are trying to fight voter fraud have not been present or made a statement,” Turner said. “This showed that their real purpose is not to fight voter fraud at all. I feel their real purpose is to gain political power in Hale and Perry County.”

Turner said he felt this case should have gotten the same amount of attention as those in Hale and other neighboring counties.

“They have not made one call or statement about the voter fraud in Perry County and it is clearly here,” Turner said. “What are they doing about voter fraud in Perry County?”