Judge won't throw out Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield recall appeal

Judge won't throw out Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield recall appeal

June 9th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

A state appeals court judge has declined to dismiss an appeal from a group wanting to oust Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield from office.

In an order filed Friday, Tennessee Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Herschel P. Franks wrote that a time will come when the mayor's attorneys will have a chance to make their points against the recall.

"The issue regarding the possible mootness of this appeal may be raised and argued by the parties at oral argument," Franks wrote.

Hal North, attorney for Littlefield, said Wednesday the result was not surprising. He also said the judge didn't say Littlefield's arguments don't have merit.

"The court didn't deny it outright," he said.

Mayoral spokesman Richard Beeland said Wednesday that Littlefield had no comment. He directed all questions to North.

Last summer, Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, along with the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action, began collecting signatures on an ouster petition.

The groups said they gathered about 15,000 signatures, enough needed under city statute to force a ballot question.

Littlefield sued the Hamilton County Election Commission to stop the ballot question, and Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth sided with him, saying recallers did not have enough signatures under state law to force a vote.

Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield appealed that decision earlier this year. Friday's ruling rebuffed the city's attempt to get the matter dismissed.

The three-member appeals court panel is expected to rule within four to six months on the merits of the appeal, officials said.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, said Wednesday he thinks Friday's ruling bolsters his argument that the recall efforts arguments are valid.

"It really snuffs out his ability to kill this thing without arguing," Folkner said.

He said the recall effort lost a battle, but "we've not lost the war."

WHAT'S NEXT

The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Knoxville is expected to hear oral arguments on the appeal in July or August, said Hal North, attorney for Mayor Ron Littlefield. North said a ruling could be expected within 90 days after that.

Should a recall election go forward, election officials have said it could not be held before August 2012. Folkner couldn't say whether a special election could be held sooner than that.

"It's really up to the courts," he said.

The Hamilton County Election Commission also filed a brief in the case seeking clarity and interpretation of recall statutes and how they should be handled.

Election commission attorney Chris Clem, said the mayor's dismissal motion was a routine court maneuver.

"I think it was a long shot by the mayor," he said.

He said he did not think the order handed down by Franks could be good or bad for any of those involved in the court case.

"You can't read the tea leaves," he said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CliffHightower.