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June 24, 2017 10:11:52 PM
Former 1st District Circuit Judge Barry W. Ford will hear Mayor-elect Lynn Spruill's motion to dismiss Johnny Moore's mayoral election challenge 10 a.m. July 11 at the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court Annex.
The motion, filed by attorneys Jim Mozingo and Lydia Quarles, claims Moore effectively abandoned his challenge when his counsel, William Starks, failed to present any evidence to substantiate the campaign's claim of numerous election irregularities during a June 13 Starkville Democratic Election Committee hearing.
The July court hearing will come eight days after Spruill and the incoming Starkville Board of Aldermen are set to be sworn into office.
"We believe we have good legal and factual grounds to have the contest dismissed, but that is a decision for the judge," Mozingo said. "We believe that Lynn was elected fair and square, and that Starkville needs to get on with its business. Nevertheless, we are only interested in the election results being proper and hope we can get to that as soon as possible. We are available virtually anytime, anywhere to get this resolved and concluded."
Starks did not reply to an email for comment by press time.
Ford, who served District 1 for about 10 years and as Pontotoc's municipal judge for about 12 years, was appointed to the Moore challenge last week by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
He is one of almost 40 retired judges with senior status who hear cases in which local judges recuse or unable to preside over for other reasons.
Spruill held a six-vote lead after votes from the May 16 Democratic primary runoff were processed.
Moore filed a petition for judicial review one day before the SDEC, at his behest, was scheduled to hear his initial election challenge.
Starks argued a signature issue between the city and Democratic Party meant the election was invalid and Starkville breached the agreement by using paper ballots instead of machines, but the Columbus-based attorney said he would not ask officials to open ballot boxes to substantiate other claims since Moore had pushed his contest up to circuit court. He said that meant the Democratic Party's hearing was no longer needed because of the court's jurisdiction.
A court order, Starks said at the SDEC hearing, was required to open the ballot boxes up for review.
The court has a limited jurisdiction and can only review the SDEC's decision, Spruill's motion to dismiss states, and since Moore effectively abandoned his challenge and an amended petition for judicial review filed after the hearing neither appeals nor acknowledges the party's ruling, the jurisdiction of the court has not been invoked.
"Moore's complete and total repudiation of the SDEC and his contempt for what state law requires" could serve as "encouragement for others to do likewise," the petition for dismissal states.
Moore's SDEC challenge and petition for judicial review also claim Starkville election commissioners rejected at least nine affidavits, while more than 60 absentee ballots have issues; numerous ballots contained improper and illegal marks; and the number of signatures in voter receipt and poll books from certain precincts did not match the number of ballots cast in the runoff.
During the June 13 SDEC hearing, Mozingo said Spruill was shorted votes in Ward 3 due to counting issues and other balloting issues, and accepting previously rejected ballots would not change the outcome of the primary.
Also in that hearing, Mozingo argued that Moore, who is also an attorney, only objected to how the election was held and to the contract's validity after the runoff went in Spruill's favor.
The SDEC unanimously affirmed Spruill as the runoff election's winner at the conclusion of the hearing.
A day of celebration and community outreach is planned for July 3 as the incoming administration officially takes office.
A 9 a.m. interfaith prayer service at Unity Park will begin the day, followed by a 10 a.m. breakfast reception at City Hall.
District 14 Senior Chancellor Dorothy Colom will administer the oath of office for Spruill and the seven-person Starkville Board of Aldermen.
Spruill and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins, who won his seventh term in office this election cycle, are expected to provide remarks at the event.
A downtown block party is scheduled for 6 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and coolers, and the city's police and fire departments are expected to provide food.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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