Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

August 21, 2006

FOUL! Judge Sells contests election

By Michael R. Moser / Chronicle editor

Criminal Court Judge Lillie Ann Sells, who lost a hotly contested election by less than a dozen votes to Assistant District Attorney David Patterson, has filed a lawsuit against Patterson contesting the election. Sells claims in the suit she lost by nine votes while other sources say the difference is 10.

The suit comes just days before Patterson is to attend a new judges seminar and just over two weeks before he is to preside over his first docket.

Among other things, the suit claims two incidents that occurred in Cumberland County on election day were either illegal or should not have happened and claims they may have affected the outcome of her race. She provides no proof or citations backing up the claims.

Seven counties make up the 13th Judicial District. In addition to Cumberland, those counties are Clay, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam and White counties. Sells in her suit claims to have received 20,097 votes to Patterson's 20,106 votes.

"However, numerous irregularities occurred and numerous illegal votes were cast, calling into question the accuracy and validity of the results," the suit claims.

The suit claims that in Cumberland County, an election officer asked "a member of the media" to help in counting ballots "despite the fact that this individual had not been previously trained and was not an official election worker."

The Chronicle had three representatives at the election office on election night and none of the three witnessed a member of the media being asked to county votes. In fact, benches were placed in front of both doors leading to the election office where votes were being counted, separating the media from election office workers.

The media in a pool effort did add figures from six tapes that recorded early voting in an effort to get results to the public earlier. Election Registrar Suzanne Smith told the media that the election office would not be adding those totals together until last, predicting that would be around 1 to 2 a.m.

Members of the media then added totals from the six tapes for their own use.

In the second issue scored in the lawsuit, Sells claims that voting machines in the county malfunctioned by showing "candidates whose names were already selected when voters first approached." This interfered with voters' ability to vote for the candidate of their choice, Sells claims.

In the suit in other counties, Sells claims:

•Some 22 absentee ballots cast in White County and two in Pickett County were from applicants who did not provide their Social Security numbers as required by law.

•That one voter in one county was not a resident of the district.

•That in White County, convicted felons Leon Meadows and Shannon L. Moore were allowed to vote even though they had not had their voting rights restored because of their convictions.

•Voters spent too much time in voting booths on election day and that these voters took longer than the time limit specified under law. As a result, long lines discouraged some voters from standing in line to cast ballots.

•That in Putnam County provisional ballots were handled and counted improperly.

The lawsuit filed by Nashville attorney Stephen J. Zralek seeks to have the results thrown out and seeks a new vote.

Chancellor Vernon Neal has stepped aside and will not hear the lawsuit. It is expected that presiding Judge John Turnbull will ask authorities in Nashville to appoint a special judge to hear the case.

Swearing in ceremonies for Patterson are scheduled for Aug. 30 in Cookeville.