Supreme Court Order Will Expedite Election Appeal
WATER VALLEY – An order issued by the Mississippi Supreme Court last Friday will expedite an appeal filed by Luther G. Folson, Jr. in the contested Yalobusha County sheriff’s election. The order sets a timeline for the attorneys’ briefs and record excerpts to be submitted to the Mississippi Supreme Court as part of the appeal process, but does not specify when the case will be heard.
The Supreme Court order is the latest activity in a flurry of legal maneuvering in the contested Nov. 5 sheriff’s election when independent candidate Mark D. Fulco was certified the winner with 2,569 votes, two more than Democratic candidate Folson. Folson first contested the election results in Yalobusha County Circuit Court on Nov. 25. Two months later, the matter went to trial and following a day of testimony Special Circuit Judge Jeff Weill ordered that a special election will be held, but only in two of the county’s 12 precincts after declaring that an accurate vote count could not be determined in the Beat 1 North Precinct and the Beat 4 Oakland Precinct.
In Judge Weill’s ruling, four absentee votes in the Nov. 5 election were deemed invalid, two from the Beat 1 North Precinct and two from the Beat 4 Oakland Precinct. Three of absentee votes had not been signed properly and the fourth ballot was invalid because the voter also cast a regular ballot on election day. Judge Weill’s ruling also declared that the vote count in the other 10 precincts would stand, giving Fulco a 39 vote lead before the new election is held in the two precincts – 1,878 votes to 1,839 votes.
Following Judge Weill’s ruling, Fulco’s attorneys filed the Motion for Clarification in circuit court on Feb. 21 requesting that only voters who will be allowed to vote in the upcoming special election shall be voters who were duly registered and qualified to vote in the Nov. 5 General Election. In the filing, Fulco’s attorneys stated that both the circuit clerk and election commissioners had inquired as to whether new voters who register after the Nov. 5 election will be allowed to vote in the two precincts in the special election.
Judge Weill denied the Motion for Clarification on March 20, but even before his ruling the contested election was already headed to the Mississippi Supreme Court. On March 6, Folson filed a notice of appeal in the state’s highest court, which postponed the special election until justices rule on the case. On April 17, attorneys for Fulco filed a Notice of Cross-Appeal in the supreme court case in respect to the lower court’s ruling denying the Motion for Clarification on who can vote in the special election for sheriff.
The appeal postponed the special election and justices in the state’s highest court will ultimately determine if the lower court ruling ordering the special election stands and who can vote in the special election. Justices could also overturn the verdict, which would mean a new trial would likely follow in circuit court. The Supreme Court website does not show when the case will appear on the court docket. The court meets for two terms a year. The first term beings on the second Monday in September and the second term begins on the first Monday in March.
SHERIFF’S ELECTION TIMELINE
Luther G. Folson, Jr. led the five-person ticket in the Democratic Primary Election for sheriff with 46 percent of the vote. Folson advanced to the Democratic Primary Runoff election against William “Lance” Humphreys, who received 42 percent of the vote.
Folson wins the Democratic Primary runoff election and is declared the Democratic nominee for sheriff. He advances to the General Election where he will face independent candidate Mark D. Fulco.
Fulco is declared the winner of the general election with 2,569 votes, two more than Folson.
The election results are certified by the Yalobusha County Election Commissioners.
Folson files a petition to contest the election.
The Mississippi Supreme Court appoints Special Circuit Judge Jeff Weill, Sr. to hear the case. One of Weill’s first actions is to set a trial date for Jan. 27.
Jan. 27 – 28
After a day of testimony on Jan. 27, Judge Weill rules the next morning that a new election will be held in the sheriff’s race, but only in two of the county’s 12 precinct. Voters in two precincts, Beat 1 North and Beat 4 Oakland will return to the polls to determine the winner of the race after four absentee ballots were deemed invalid, two from each precinct.
Judge Weill issues his final judgment in the case, an order that states the governor will set the date for the special election.
There is no word from the governor on the new election date, but attorneys for Fulco file a motion for clarification asking Weill to clarify his order. The motion asks the judge to declare that only the voters who voted in the Nov. 5 election be allowed to vote in the special election. Essentially the order requested the judge to rule that new voters who register in the two precincts would not be able to vote in the special election. The motion also states that the special election is merely a continuation of the Nov. 5 general election and only a redo or revote in the specifically ordered two precincts.
Folson files a notice of appeal with the Mississippi Supreme Court, contesting Judge Weill’s verdict ordering the new election. The appeal means there will be no special election until the matter is resolved by the state’s highest court.
Folson’s attorney filed a response in circuit court in opposition to Fulco’s Motion For Clarification, starting that the issue raised is outside the jurisdiction of this court in an election contest. The response also states that pursuant to Mississippi law, each person who registers to vote at least 30 days prior to a special election is qualified to vote in the special election. The third point in the response also states that special elections are not a continuation of a general election as alleged in Fulco’s Motion of Clarification.
Judge Weill issues an order denying the motion for clarification. This order marks the last activity in Circuit Court, as all filings are now directed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The Mississippi Supreme Court clerk issues a notice to the court reporter stating the court transcript is due by June 8. The notice also states that the trial court clerk shall assemble the record within 30 days.
Folson files a motion to expedite and advance case on docket and for Expedited Appeal Decision. Folson’s motion states the subject matter of the appeal raises important public issues affecting the finality of election results and the interpretation and construction of election statutes which are applicable state-wide.
“A prompt resolution of the legal issues raised in this case will serve the public interest by assuring fairness, finality and certainty of governmental functions involved in the electoral process,” the motion states.
Fulco’s attorney filed the Notice of Cross-Appeal with respect to the trial court’s order denying the Motion for Clarification.
The Supreme Court issues a notice stating that the Notice of Cross-Appeal filed by Fulco’s attorneys is deemed filed on April 16, with the appeal proceeding according to the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Fulco’s attorneys file a response to Folson’s motion to expedite the case, stating that the they defer to the Mississippi Supreme Court with respect to setting the schedule in the appeal. The response also stated that the court record is not complete, because the June 8 deadline for the court reporter was to complete the partial transcript designated by Folson and not the full transcript requested by Fulco.
The order from the supreme court states that Folson’s motion to expedite the appeal is granted. The order also states that court records requested by Fulco were filed by Folson on April 15, making the record complete.