Como aldermen election before Miss. Supreme Court

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court will hear arguments Dec. 11 in an election challenge from an unsuccessful candidate for Como alderman.

John Walton was declared the winner in the June 7, 2005, regular municipal election, but Forster Ruhl successfully challenged the outcome, questioning the legality of 38 absentee ballots. Circuit Judge Sharon Aycock ruled in October 2005 that the absentee ballots were not legal, and she threw out the original election results.

Walton had been serving as aldermen for about 18 months after winning an earlier special election. He was seeking a full term in 2005.

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Walton won a second special election in January 2006.

Ruhl, however, said state law requires candidates in a special election to qualify 20 days before the election. Ruhl claimed he was the only candidate who qualified on time for the special election and the election should have been canceled as provided by state law.

In December 2005, however, Aycock revised her decision, ruling that neither Ruhl nor Walton was required to re-qualify for the special election. Both names appeared on the Jan. 3 ballot.

Ruhl appealed to the state Supreme Court, saying the judge erred in limiting the number of candidates who could run in the special election. He said state law does not exclude anyone from running in a special election. In the alternative, Ruhl also claimed he should have been seated as alderman because the judge erred in allowing Walton on the ballot after Walton failed to file his qualification papers on time.

In special elections in Mississippi, candidates do not run under party labels, and a runoff, if necessary, is between the top two vote getters.

The election case is among dozens the Supreme Court will hear during the November-December term. Some cases will be decided using attorneys’ briefs rather than oral argument.

In an alleged case of judicial misconduct, the Supreme Court will decide whether a Harrison County justice court judge should be publicly reprimanded, suspended for 30 days without pay and fined $1,500.

The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance recommended the punishment in June for Judge Bruce Roberts. The commission found Roberts engaged in misconduct by ridiculing a litigant.

It also accused Roberts of refusing to allow the litigant to present evidence, improperly setting bond, participating in a case after recusing himself, holding hearings without due process, improperly issuing contempt warrants, improperly dismissing cases and setting aside orders of another judge and amending a criminal charge without authority.

The Supreme Court also will decide whether to reinstate Jackson lawyer Chokwe Lumumba to his legal practice. The justices suspended Lumumba for six months in March 2005 and until he retook and passed the ethics portion of the Mississippi Bar exam.

The Mississippi Bar Association had sought to punish Lumumba for comments he made to Circuit Court Judge Marcus D. Gordon in 2001.

During the incident, Gordon threatened to order Lumumba out of the courtroom after the attorney attempted to tell the judge how to get along better with lawyers.

After Lumumba said he was proud to be thrown out, Gordon said that statement would cost him $300. Lumumba said he would pay for justice, referring to the fine. Lumumba then said he’d paid other judges to try to get justice and he’d pay Gordon, too. Gordon said that would cost Lumumba $500.

Lumumba has contended he did nothing wrong.

Also before the Supreme Court:

— Ronald Chris Foster’s appeal of his life without parole sentence for a convenience store killing in 1989. The Supreme Court had ordered Foster re-sentenced in 2005.

Foster was one of five Mississippi death row inmates saved from lethal injection after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it’s unconstitutional to execute those who committed capital offenses when they were younger than 18.

Foster was 17 when he killed Lowndes County convenience store worker George Shelton during a robbery in 1989.

— Terry Lattimore’s appeal of his 2002 murder conviction and life sentence in the beating death of a Washington County catfish farmer.

Prosecutors said James Dycus was assaulted by two men on July 16, 2000, at his home. Deputies found Dycus bleeding from head wounds in his back yard. The men reportedly used a pipe to beat Dycus.