published Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Judge Hollingsworth to again hear Mayor Ron Littlefield recall case

by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    In this file photo from Sept. 3, 2010, Judge Jeff Hollingsworth debates statutes with attorneys during a hearing on the petition to recall Mayor Littlefield.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The judge who ruled in favor of Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield in his battle to stave off a recall vote will hear the case again.

On Tuesday, the recall case against Littlefield was transferred to Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth.

A preliminary hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Monday at which Hollingsworth will consider whether to stop a recall election set for August.

Littlefield said Tuesday he thought Hollingsworth would be the appropriate person to hear the case since the judge had ruled on it once before and it could now move quickly through Circuit Court.

"I think that is a very efficient course of action," Littlefield said. "I think there will be fewer questions."

Hollingsworth heard the recall case in September 2010 and ruled in favor of Littlefield, saying recallers did not have enough petition signatures to force an election under state law. He was overruled by the state Court of Appeals.

After the Court of Appeals ruling, the Hamilton County Election Commission certified the petition and set the recall election.

The mayor filed a lawsuit last month against the election commission to stop the recall election.

Chris Clem, attorney for the election commission, said he doesn't think the transfer will be unfavorable to the election commission, although Hollingsworth ruled against it before.

"It's my job just to do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may," Clem said. "He's a fair judge; he's likable. I like my chances."

Circuit Court Judge Marie Williams, who handed down the order to transfer the case, said she made the ruling because Hollingsworth has heard the case before.

The recall effort started in the summer of 2010 when three groups -- Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, Chattanooga Organized for Action and the Chattanooga Tea Party -- started collecting signatures on a recall petition.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said he thought the recall effort's case would prevail if Hollings-worth kept an "open mind."

Hal North, Littlefield's attorney, said he thought Hollingsworth would rule fairly. Since the judge has all the prior knowledge of the case, North said, the case should move quickly. "We think that's logical," North said.

Staff writer Ansley Haman contributed to this report.

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