June 22, 2013 7:18:25 PM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Mississippi 10th Circuit District Judge Lester F. Williamson Jr. will oversee alderman candidate John Gaskin's request for an election review, counsel confirmed Friday.
Williamson's appointment marks the first step in Gaskin's contest of the Ward 4 Democratic Primary. The state's 10th Circuit District includes Clarke, Kemper, Lauderdale and Wayne counties.
An official hearing date is not scheduled, but a pre-proceedings conference between the judge and counselors is scheduled for Thursday, attorney Lydia Quarles confirmed. Quarles represents incoming Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, who defeated Gaskin by four votes.
The conference meeting is expected to include discussions on the proceeding's logistics and scheduling.
Walker's attorney also filed a petition with circuit court to dismiss the incoming alderman as a party defendant in Gaskin's challenge. The petition for judicial review originally listed Walker and the Starkville Municipal Democratic Executive Committee as defendants.
Gaskin's lawyers previously called for a new election after issues with redistricting developed during the May 7 primary. Counsel moves that the primary "should be voided because there has been such a departure from statutory compliance as to destroy the integrity of the election and make the will of qualified electors impossible to ascertain."
The complaint alleges "clearly illegal votes" were cast in the election which would change the race's outcome, including ballots from other wards' residents who voted in Ward 4 and affidavits which were counted contrary to statutory mandates. Voters were also prevented from casting their ballots due to redistricting, the complaint alleges.
Walker's response notes that both Ward 4 candidates oversaw and concurred with election officials as affidavits were processed, opened and counted.
Gaskin previously petitioned the SDMEC to hold a hearing on the primary's validity, but no such meeting was held. A hearing was scheduled for May 31 but canceled a day before due to prior obligations made by its members. Gaskin's counsel previously told the Dispatch a petition would be filed with circuit court if the committee did not act within a reasonable amount of time.
The incoming Starkville Board of Aldermen takes office July 1.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch