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Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee v. Jones

Supreme Court of Mississippi

June 15, 2017

TUNICA COUNTY DEMOCRATIC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
v.
CRAIG JONES AND WILLIAM PEGRAM

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/10/2016

         TUNICA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. HENRY L. LACKEY

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: JAMES KEVIN LITTLETON, III.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: JAMIE FERGUSON JACKS CHARLES BUCKLEY GRAVES, JR.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: CHARLES BUCKLEY GRAVES, JR. JAMIE FERGUSON JACKS JAMES KEVIN LITTLETON, III WILLIE GRIFFIN KENNETH JERMAINE GRIGSBY.

          BEFORE DICKINSON, P.J., KING AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          KING, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Craig Jones filed a petition for judicial review of the Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee's (TCDEC) decision that he was not qualified to run in its primary for Tunica County Board of Supervisors, Beat Five position. The trial court found that Jones's name should be on the primary ballot. TCDEC appealed, but failed to prosecute the appeal and kept Jones's name off the primary ballot. The trial court then vacated the primary election one day before the general election, which took place and which was won by an independent candidate. Jones then petitioned under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60 for relief from the judgment vacating the primary election, which the trial court granted. Because the trial court lacked authority to enter the second and third orders, as no election contest was ever filed, this Court vacates those orders and notes that the uncontested election results currently stand.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On March 17, 2015, Jones filed a petition for judicial review of the decision of the TCDEC that he was not qualified to run for the position of county supervisor. His petition was assigned Cause Number 2015-0033. This Court appointed Judge Henry Lackey to hear cause number 2015-0033, stating that he was appointed "to preside over the matter herein involved." On May 21, 2015, the court found that Jones was qualified to be a candidate, overruled the decision of the TCDEC, and directed that Jones's name be placed on the primary ballot. The TCDEC appealed to this Court on May 27, 2015. On June 11, 2015, Mildred Conley, the chairperson of the TCDEC, sent a letter to the Tunica County Circuit Court clerk stating that Jones "shall no longer appear on the upcoming election ballots until a Supreme Court ruling has been reached. We are therefore requesting that these names be removed effective immediately upon this notification. Once the names have been removed we will then sign off on the ballots."

         ¶3. On June 24, 2015, the Clerk of this Court sent a deficiency notice to the TCDEC stating that if the appeal costs were not paid, the record designation was not filed, and the certificate of compliance was not filed within fourteen days, this Court would dismiss the appeal for failure to prosecute it. On July 16, 2015, the Clerk of this Court consequently dismissed the appeal for failure to pay the costs of the appeal. On July 28, 2015, the TCDEC filed a motion for reconsideration. The primary election was held on August 4, 2015, without Jones on the ballot. McKinley Daley won that primary. On August 19, 2015, Jones filed a Motion to Dismiss Appeal and for Award of Damages. On August 21, 2015, this Court ordered the TCDEC to respond to Jones's motion. The TCDEC did not file a response. On August 26, 2015, a panel of this Court thus denied the TCDEC's motion for reconsideration and found that the mandate should issue on the prior dismissal of the appeal. The mandate issued on September 3, 2015.

         ¶4. On October 12, 2015, Jones filed a Petition to Vacate the Primary Election for Beat 5 Supervisor and to Set a Special Election in Cause No. 2015-0033. He argued that the TCDEC failed to follow proper procedure under Mississippi Code Section 23-15-961, and that the court should consequently vacate the nomination of Daley and order a special election for the Democratic nominee for Beat Five supervisor of Tunica County. On October 26, 2015, the court ordered that the election and nomination of Daley as the Democratic nominee be vacated and that a special election "be held in the manner and time required by law by the Tunica County Democratic Executive Committee, with Craig Jones and all other qualified candidates on the ballot, on such date as the Governor's Office shall call or set." The order was filed on November 2, 2015. The general election was held November 3, 2015, with Daley and independent candidate William Pegram on the ballot. Pegram won the general election by a vote of 334 to 323. Because the Democratic primary had been vacated by the circuit court order, the Board of Supervisors refused to seat Pegram, and instead appointed Daley as interim board member for Beat Five. Neither the TCDEC nor Daley filed an election challenge to the general election.

         ¶5. The TCDEC then requested on November 19, 2015, that Governor Phil Bryant set a special election. Governor Bryant declined to do so, noting in a letter dated December 7, 2015, that Section 23-15-961, the procedural vehicle through which the challenge was made in this case, did not provide any authority for the Governor to set a special election. On December 16, 2015, the TCDEC filed an Emergency Motion for Clarification and Stay, which Jones opposed, arguing that to grant the motion would effectively unseat Pegram, and that Pegram should be joined in the suit. On the same day that he filed his response opposing the TCDEC's motion, Jones filed a Motion to Set Aside Order. In it, he noted that the relief sought in the cause was pursuant to Section 23-15-961, and that the court was without authority to vacate the primary or to order a new election. He also noted that the relief granted in the November 2, 2015, order is not permitted by law. Jones consequently requested pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 60 that the court enter an order setting aside its Order Vacating the Primary Election for Beat Five Supervisor and Setting a Special Election. On January 20, 2016, Pegram filed a motion to intervene in the action. On February 18, 2016, the circuit court found "sufficient justification under Rule 60 of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure to set aside the November 2, 2015 Order calling for a special election." The court reasoned that Jones had withdrawn all challenges, so it would be inequitable to order a special election for Jones when Jones was no longer asserting his "rights" to a special election, that the TCDEC cannot argue for a special election for Jones when its position throughout the litigation was that Jones was unqualified to run, that the court did not know that an independent candidate was on the general election ballot at the time of its November 2, 2015, order, and that no election contest had been filed. The court further found that Pegram was the duly elected supervisor and that Daley should be removed from the seat immediately.

         ¶6. The TCDEC appeals this decision to this Court, this time prosecuting its appeal. It argues that 1) the trial court exceeded the authority granted it for all actions after it entered its order regarding Jones's original petition for review; 2) the trial court had no authority to vacate the primary election; 3) the trial court had no authority to vacate its order vacating the primary; 4) the trial court lacked authority to find Mildred Conley in contempt a second time; 5) Jones never filed an election contest under Sections 23-15-921 and 23-15-927, thus the trial court was without authority to vacate the primary election; 6) the trial court lacked authority to declare Pegram as the winner of the general election; 7) the trial court lacked authority to grant Pegram's ...


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