Appeals court says recall ruling to come soon

Appeals court says recall ruling to come soon

August 30th, 2012 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

A ruling on the recall effort against Mayor Ron Littlefield should happen within weeks.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals heard from attorneys Wednesday in Knoxville and promised to give a decision as soon as possible with a November election looming 21/2 months away, said Chris Clem, attorney for the Hamilton County Election Commission.

"They responded they had every intention of hurrying a decision by Sept. 12," Clem said.

Sept. 12 is important because it's the day all local ballots must be shipped to the printer. After that date, if a ruling reverses the decision of Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollings-worth, who ruled against the recallers in February, there can be no recall election, Clem said.

The next election after that date is the city election in March 2013.

Tom Greenholtz, Littlefield's attorney, said he thinks he argued a strong case that the recallers did not have enough valid signatures on their petitions to force a recall election. More than 15,000 signatures were gather by recallers, made up of Citizens to Recall Littlefield, the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action. More than 9,000 were city residents, but about half those signatures had no date, which is required under state law.

Clem said he is still unsure how the case will be decided.

"I really don't know," Greenholtz said. "They were very interested in the appeal."

The recall effort has been mired in court for more than two years. The current appeal comes after Hollings-worth's ruling stopped an August recall election, set by the Hamilton County Election Commission, from going forward.

Clem said the panel of three judges in Knoxville asked tough questions concerning the City Charter and the petitions given to the election commission by the recall groups.

He said he thinks a recall election could still be possible and told the judges that.

"I said I think we can recall, but you'd have to get [a decision] to us by Sept. 12," Clem said.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said he felt good about the arguments his group made to the judges. The biggest arguments were that court should not stop an election and that the City Charter is valid, he said.

"We made it clear we wanted an election," he said.

But with six months left in Littlefield's term, Folkner said he had no answer on whether the groups would give up on a recall election if the appeals court rules against them.

"I can't contemplate that conjecture at this time," he said.

Last week, the Rev. Leroy Griffith also filed court papers asking to intervene in the case for the benefit of the Westside community, which is trying to put an initiative on the November ballot calling for a fair housing amendment in Chattanooga.

Griffith said the initiative is related because there are also questions concerning whether state law or the City Charter dictates how those petition drives should be conducted.

Griffith could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but several attendees said he didn't speak.