UPDATE: Judge sides with Mayor over in recall hearing - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Judge sides with Mayor over in recall hearing

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Small courtroom packed for Chattanooga recall hearing. / Melydia Clewell, WRCB Small courtroom packed for Chattanooga recall hearing. / Melydia Clewell, WRCB
CPA Jack London on the stand at recall hearing CPA Jack London on the stand at recall hearing
Court looking at petition on big screen. Court looking at petition on big screen.
Recall organizer Jim Folkner says Election Commission attorneys reviewed drafts of the petition. Recall organizer Jim Folkner says Election Commission attorneys reviewed drafts of the petition.

By Melydia Clewell & WRCB Staff
Eyewitness News

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) – A Chattanooga judge has ruled in favor of Mayor Ron Littlefield on a challenge to throw out recall petitions.

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled that state statute trumped the city charter, and that 14,854 signatures are needed for a recall election to take place.  Recall organizers only had 9,903 "valid" signatures, enough to meet the requirements of the city charter but nearly 5,000 shy of the state mark.

Additionally, more than 5400 of the signatures were not dated and the Judge ruled those would not have met state guidelines, either, dropping the official number of valid signatures to 4,464.

Judge Hollingsworth's ruling also found a third issue with the latest recall effort. State statute requires a recall election be held during a municipal or county election. The judge ruled that the November 2, 2010, election doesn't fit that requirement because it is a federal and state election day.

Recall organizers will be allowed to appeal the judge's ruling. That appeal would require an emergency hearing. However, organizers have not ruled out the possibility of starting from scratch with another petition drive.

The Election Commission had set a special meeting for Wednesday to vote on whether or not to certify the signatures on the recall petitions. Today's ruling came with an injunction which prohibits the Election Commission from certifying the signatures so that meeting is now moot.

Meantime, Mayor Ron Littlefield scheduled a 9:00am Wednesday media conference to discuss moving forward and his plans to refocus the city's attention and put the divisiveness in the past.

Below is a minute-by-minute account of the hearing from Melydia Clewell.  You can also follow Melydia on Twitter: @nosie_rosie

 

Update 2:46 p.m.

Judge rules recall vote can not go on November 2nd ballot.

Update 2:44 p.m.

Judge also rules that undated signatures are not valid.

Update 2:43 p.m.

State code requires 14,854 signatures for effective petition. Folkner et al only collected 9903

Update 2:40 p.m.

Judge says city code established in '90, predates state law; therefore not valid under state law.

Update 2:37 p.m.

Judge: state law enacted in 1997 allows cities to pass ordinances as long as they don't conflict w/state law.

Update 2:36 p.m.

Judge: this is about whether state code or city code applies. Judge rules state law takes precedence.

Update 2:33 p.m.

Judge taking bench

Update 2:25 p.m.

Five Baliffs in courtroom for recall ruling.

Update 1:45 p.m.

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - A judge now has to decide if the attempt to recall Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield was legal.

Mayor Littlefield filed a lawsuit stating that the petitioners did not have enough signatures and that many of the signatures on the petitions were undated.

Lawyers for the mayor, the petitioners and the Hamilton County Election Commission spent the morning arguing their points in circuit court.

Taking the stand today included the accountant responsible for examining the petitions, a member of the Election Commission as well as three of the recall organizers.

Judge Hollingsworth is expected to give his decision around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

If the judge rules in favor of Mayor Littlefield, the petitioners are expected to present evidence that they were intentionally misled by the Hamilton County Election Commission.

Either side will be allowed to appeal the judge's ruling.

That appeal would require an emergency hearing.

The Election Commission is expected to vote Wednesday on whether or not to certify the signatures on the recall petitions.

WRCBtv.com is in the courtroom and will have the latest as it becomes available.

Below is a minute-by-minute account of the hearing from Melydia Clewell.  You can also follow Melydia on Twitter: @nosie_rosie

 

Update 1:15 p.m.

Judge will give decision at 2:30 p.m.  If judge rules in favor of petitioners, the hearing is over.  If judge rules for Littlefield, we could have a hearing for evidence on petitioners' claim they were misled by Election Commission.

Update 1:00 p.m.

Judge says he will rely on state statute for determining date issue.

Update 12:59 p.m.

Joe Manuel asking judge how he will determine issue of signatures without dates.

Update 12:56 p.m.

All parties rest. Judge has 1:30 hearing on another matter. He wants time to review all he's heard. Will rule from bench at 2:30.

Update 12:55 p.m.

Local Tea Party president Mark West testifying to dates he placed petition ads in paper

Update 12:54 p.m.

Mark West answering questions about hand-written notes he took for today's testimony. Not sure where this is going.

Update 12:29 p.m.

Judge taking 10 min recess. Up next: Mark West, President of Chattanooga TEA Party

Update 12:28 p.m.

Hal North asking Wysong about extra language on petition referencing King George III & taxes.

Update 12:21 p.m.

Wysong says he met with Charlotte Mullis Morgan for advice on formatting the petition.

Update 12:20 p.m.

Joe Manuel wants to introduce testimony that would show Election Commission gave petitioners bad info. Judge says not at this time.

Update 12:15 p.m.

Folkner dismissed. Next witness: Charlie Wysong, member of Chattanooga TEA Party.

Update 11:57 a.m.

Hal North grilling Folkner about the way petition wording was decided.

Update 11:53 a.m.

Hal North playing semantics game with Folkner about when petitions were signed. Folkner: I didn't watch all 15,000 people write their names.

Update 11:43 a.m.

Hal North to Folkner attorney Joe Manuel: You're right. The election commission gave you bad advice.

Update 11:41 a.m.

Folkner says he was doing his best to follow guidelines established by election commission staff, relied heavily on direction from election staff.

Update 11:35 a.m.

Folkner says election commission attorney reviewed drafts of petition language.

Update 11:32 a.m.

Jim Folkner, recall petition organizer, is next witness.

Update 11:31 a.m.

Mullis Morgan has been dismissed from witness stand.

Update 11:22 a.m.

Mayor's attorney using Hamilton County election commission website data as "proof" Nov 2 is not county/city election

Update 11:19 a.m.

Recall election must happen during county or city election. Mayor's attorney contends Nov 2 election is federal/state. Mullis-Morgan says 11/2 is general county election

Update 11:16 a.m.

Mayor's attorney now asking Mullis-Morgan about state law on when municipal elections should be held.

Update 11:14 a.m.

Election Commission's Charlotte Mullis-Morgan on the stand. Being asked what entity will fund the November election: The county.

Update 11:13 a.m.

Mayor's attorney concludes its case. Election Commission attorney Chris Clem asking if they should go over question of when a recall election should be held. Yes.

Update 11:11 a.m.

Mayor's attorney on re-direct asking London to clarify his remark about election staff's conscientious handling of petitions.

Update 11:04 a.m.

Folkner attorney asking London how much he's being paid for reviewing petitions & testifying: $143/hour.

Update 11:03 a.m.

Clem through with witness. Folkner's attorney now at bat.

Update 11:00 a.m.

City attorney through with CPA. Election Commission attorney Chris Clem now asking London questions.

Update 10:55 a.m.

Judge asking why he needs to hear about signatures that have not been ruled valid. Telling attorney to move on.

Update 10:50 a.m.

Folkner's attorney objects to London giving opinion that some of the names appeared to be written by same person since he is not a handwriting expert. Judge agrees. CPA can not attest to validity of actual signatures.

Update 10:44 a.m.

CPA Jack London was asked by Election Commission to validate petition signatures.

Update 10:37 a.m.

First witness is Jack London. Potential witnesses asked to leave the courtroom as London takes the stand. London is a witness for the plaintiff, Ron Littlefield. London is a CPA, expert in financial forensics.

Update 10:32 a.m.

Attorney North still introducing copies of Council meeting minutes, Election Commission minutes, correspondence between parties. 

Update 10:24 a.m.

Judge to audience: this may seem tedious but it is saving us hours of testimony.

Update 10:17 a.m.

Attorney Hal North reading thru more than a dozen (so far) facts to which all parties agree, judge hopes this will speed things along.

Update 10:14 a.m.

Back from Recess. All attys agree: Littlefield is mayor.

Update 9:44 a.m.

Judge says lawyers need to time to discuss stipulations. Taking a break.

Update 9:40 a.m.

Folkner atty agrees w/elex comm atty: any declaratory judgmt -if given- should come w/injunction.

Update 9:36 a.m.

Atty for Folkner says only issue for declaratory judgmt is whether names should be dated.

Update: 9:35 a.m.

Folkner attorney says MTAS atty now agrees city charter should take precedence over state law.

Update 9:34 a.m.

Folkner says first MTAS review was flawed - overlooked 2002 city referendum to adopt charter/changes.

Update 9:34 a.m.

Folkner attorney says there's no state statute giving legal right to recall. Chatt citizens only legal right to recall lies in city charter.

Update 9:33 a.m.

Attorney for Jim Folkner asking Judge Hollingsworth to remember 9903 who signed petition. They're on legal right to recall lies in city code.

Update 9:32 a.m.

City attorney Mike Mahan giving court overview of Chattanooga's status as a "home-rule" city. Says that's the critical issue. Is lower number of names ok?

Update 9:31 a.m.

Clem says if the Election Commission is allowed to vote on certifying petitions Wednesday, we'll get sued either way. He said their side would just as soon have judge make decision today.

Update 9:26 a.m.

Clem says Election Commission treated this recall petition differently due to 2008 Chancery Court ruling that favored Healy.

Update 9:23 a.m.

Attorney Chris Clem now addressing court on behalf of Hamilton County Election Commission. He is giving background of a 2008 Rob Healy lawsuit.

Update 9:20 a.m.

North also asking Judge to determine number of signatures needed. State guideline (14,854) or City (8,957).

Update 9:17 a.m.

The defense for Mayor Littlefield centers around three key arguments. 1.) The signatures have no dates. 2.) The petition uses language that is not approved. 3.) The petition has no question.

Update 9:13 a.m.

Attorney Hal North (for Littlefield): 9903 valid signatures on recall petition and more than 5,000 not dated. North claims that is a violation of state law.

Update 9:05 a.m.

Littlefield asking Judge Jeff Hollingsworth for declaratory ruling tossing recall petition due to "flawed process."

You can follow Melydia Clewell on Twitter at twitter.com/nosie_rosie.

 

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