Judge says petitioners can join recall lawsuit

Judge says petitioners can join recall lawsuit

September 4th, 2010 by Cliff Hightower in Politics Local

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press -- Sep 3, 2010 Judge Jeff Hollingsworth addresses attorney Tom Greenholtz at the end of Friday morning's hearing. Attorneys representing Mayor Ron Littlefield and petitioners met in Judge Hollingsworth's courtroom on Friday for a preliminary hearing about the petition to recall Mayor Littlefield.

A judge ruled Friday that one of the men pushing for a recall of Mayor Ron Littlefield can intervene in a lawsuit the mayor has filed to stop the recall.

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth ruled that Jim Folkner, who heads the group Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, can become a party in the lawsuit, which Littlefield filed to stop a recall election from occurring during the Nov. 2 general election.

As a party to the suit, Folkner has all the same legal rights as the mayor.

Littlefield filed the lawsuit against the Hamilton County Election Commission as a private citizen, not in his role as mayor.

After the judge's ruling, Folkner said he is glad at least one person will be able to represent those who signed the petitions.

COMING SUNDAY

Read more about the recall organizers and their efforts. In News.

WHAT'S NEXT

Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth will hear arguments at 9 a.m. Tuesday on whether a recall election for Mayor Ron Littlefield should be held during the Nov. 2 general election.

"I'm very concerned that the rights of the 15,000 people who signed the petition not be negated by technicalities," he said.

Two other groups - the Chattanooga Tea Party and Chattanooga Organized for Action - are also part of the recall effort, but did not file to intervene in the suit.

Hollingsworth denied another motion to move the hearing from Circuit Court to Chancery Court. He told the court the case is "here and I'm going to have to deal with it."

More than 15,000 people signed a petition to oust the mayor from office. The Hamilton County Election Commission validated 9,000 of those signatures.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said after the hearing that the city also was included as part of Littlefield's lawsuit after all parties agreed Thursday. The city wants to clarify whether the City Charter or state statutes determine rules for recall elections. The charter says about 9,000 voter signatures are needed for a recall while the state says 15,000.

Joe Manuel, Folkner's attorney, argued from the outset of the hearing that Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield had a right to be party to the suit because the group represents the very people who would be affected.

"They have an interest," he said. "They are the petitioners."

If there were any ruling against the petitioners and they were not included, they could sue, he noted.

Tom Greenholtz, an attorney for Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, which is representing the election commission, argued that the commission represents the same interests as the petitioners and could therefore represent them as well.

Greenholtz also argued that, if the petitioners were taken on as a third party, they should only be allowed to discuss the legal issues between the City Charter and state law, so the case does not become a "he said, she said" argument in which finding someone to blame becomes the main goal.

"This is about application of the law," he said. "This is about validity of the law."

Manuel said that argument violated the rights of the petitioners.

"To say you have to go to the corner and be quiet, we think is inappropriate," he said.