Moore's election challenge to move forward after ruling

Johnny Moore waits to hear the result of his election challenge of the May 16 Primary runoff results. The case will move forward after a special appointed judge denied a motion for dismissal from Mayor Lynn Spruill.  (Photo by Logan Kirkland SDN)
Staff Writer

Johnny Moore's election challenge of the May 16 Democratic Primary runoff results will move forward after a special appointed judge denied a motion for dismissal from Mayor Lynn Spruill.

Judge Barry Ford, who was appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in mid-June to oversee the hearing, denied Spruill’s motion to dismiss Moore’s request for judicial review in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on Thursday.

Attorney Jim Mozingo spoke on behalf of Spruill, saying his team is going to sit and talk about the next steps in the process. However, it is likely they will pursue an interlocutory appeal on the judge’s decision.

“I just want to preserve our right to have the Court of Appeals and (Mississippi) Supreme Court make a decision about the jurisdiction,” Mozingo said. “That’s our tentative plan right now.”

Spruill's team argued that Moore's challenge circumvented the Starkville Municipal Democratic Committee by filing for judicial review in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. Spruill's team questioned the jurisdiction of the special judge given how the challenge was handled during the committee hearing on June 13.

Mozingo said while an appeal of the decision to deny Spruill's request is the current plan, it is possible that they will just go on and proceed with the case.

Moore’s legal counsel William Starks said their team was pleased with the ruling.

Starks said once the judge sets a time for the trial, his team will begin sifting through and collecting evidence to support their claims citing problems with vote counting.

Starks said there are several affidavit ballots, nine in particular and over 50 absentee ballots that need to be inspected.

At the hearing in June in front of the Starkville Municipal Democratic Committee, Moore's team opted not to provide any tangible evidence to support their claims, since the matter had been filed in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.

For both legal teams, the turning point in the hearing came from Stark’s presentation of the Chandler v. McKee case, which Starks said provided a legal precedent for the court to rule on.

In this case, Floyd McKee contested an election after he was defeated by Joe Chandler in the Democratic Primary runoff for District 5 Supervisor of Clay County. After the Clay County Democratic Executive Committee ruled in favor of Chandler, McKee filed a petition for judicial review with the Clay County Circuit Court.

Chandler filed a motion to dismiss McKee’s petition, arguing that it was not filed in a timely manner. This interlocutory appeal stems from the circuit court’s denial of Chandler’s motion to dismiss. Finding that the circuit court erred in failing to grant Chandler’s motion to dismiss, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s judgment and returned this case back to the circuit court with instructions to dismiss McKee’s petition for judicial review.

Mozingo disagreed with the interpretation of the presented case, but respects the ruling from the bench. He said their team called for dismissal of Moore's request because they felt Moore didn’t have the right to skip the committee hearing process, but the court has concluded that this recent case does give them right to do that.

“I think the judge construes that case differently than I do,” Mozingo said. “I just disagree with that.”

Starks said he feels the case he presented was the ace in his pocket that helped the judge reach his decision.

“It was something I don’t think that they were not able to discuss and get around,” Starks said.

Despite the challenge moving forward, Spruill still holds Starkville's highest office after being sworn in on July 3.