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James v. Westbrooks

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 25, 2019

CEOLA JAMES
v.
LATRICE WESTBROOKS

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/21/2018

          WARREN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. HON. STEPHEN B. SIMPSON.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CEOLA JAMES (PRO SE)

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: WILLIE GRIFFIN

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, C.J., COLEMAN AND BEAM, JJ.

          RANDOLPH, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Former Court of Appeals Judge Ceola James lost the 2016 election for the Court of Appeals by nearly twenty-two thousand votes. James filed an election contest against the winner, Judge Latrice Westbrooks.[1] James alleged Westbrooks improperly affiliated with the Democratic Party and improperly aligned herself with a political candidate, Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi's Second United States Congressional District. James argued that she received all of the "legal" votes due to Westbrooks's alleged violations of election law and pleaded that she is entitled to hold the judicial post won by Westbrooks.

         ¶2. Westbrooks filed a motion for summary judgment. At the hearing on Westbrooks's motion, the trial court found that James had failed to submit proof that Westbrooks had improperly aligned her campaign with a political candidate or political party and granted summary judgment in favor of Westbrooks. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. James and Judge Westbrooks were both candidates for the position of judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, District 2, Position 2, in the November 2016 general election. Westbrooks defeated James, receiving 92, 359 votes (56.74 percent). James received 70, 428 votes (43.26 percent). James filed a petition to contest the election in Warren County Circuit Court against Westbrooks and Representative Thompson, alleging that Westbrooks improperly aligned her campaign with Thompson's campaign, contrary to Mississippi Code Sections 23-15-973 and 23-15-976. Specifically, James alleged that Westbrooks

1. Purposely placed a picture of herself and Thompson on her campaign card;
2. Attended a 2016 Democratic party meeting, at which Thompson introduced her as his friend running for the Court of Appeals;
3. Appeared with Thompson at the 2016 Domestic Violence Parade in Yazoo City, at which Thompson introduced her as a candidate for the Court of Appeals;
4. Placed her campaign signs with Thompson's campaign signs;
5. Consented to a fundraiser in her honor at which Thompson was listed on the invitation as the "special guest";
6. Consented to a "Sample Official Democratic Election Ballot" that was distributed with her permission; and
7. Posted, or allowed to be posted, photos of her and Thompson on social media during the general election.

         James alleged that these activities violated Mississippi Code Sections 23-15-973 and 23-15-976 and caused voters to align Westbrooks's campaign with the Democratic Party and with Representative Thompson's campaign.

         ¶4. Section 23-15-973 provides the following:

It shall be the duty of the judges of the circuit court to give a reasonable time and opportunity to the candidates for the office of judge of the Supreme Court, judges of the Court of Appeals, circuit judge and chancellor to address the people during court terms. In order to give further and every possible emphasis to the fact that the said judicial offices are not political but are to be held without favor and with absolute impartiality as to all persons, and because of the jurisdiction conferred upon the courts by this chapter, the judges thereof should be as far removed as possible from any political affiliations or obligations. It shall be unlawful for any candidate for any of the offices mentioned in this section to align himself with any candidate or candidates for any other office or with any political faction or any political party at any time during any primary or general election campaign. Likewise it shall be unlawful for any candidate for any other office nominated or to be nominated at any primary election, wherein any candidate for any of the judicial offices in this section mentioned, is or are to be nominated, to align himself with any one or more of the candidates for said offices or to take any part whatever in any nomination for any one or more of said judicial offices, except to cast his individual vote. Any candidate for any office, whether nominated with or without opposition, at any primary wherein a candidate for any one of the judicial offices herein mentioned is to be nominated who shall deliberately, knowingly and willfully violate the provisions of this section shall forfeit his nomination, or if elected at the following general election by virtue of said nomination, his election shall be void.

Miss. Code Ann. ยง 23-15-973 (Rev. 2018). Similarly, Mississippi Code Section 23-15-976 provides that "[a] judicial office is a nonpartisan office and a candidate for election thereto is prohibited from campaigning or qualifying for such an office based on party ...


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