Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

September 28, 2006

Sells' chances of retaining judgeship are dwindling; ruling favors Patterson

Lillie Ann Sells was denied her request to void the 13th Judicial District criminal court judge Aug. 3 election, but it is unclear when David Patterson will be able to take the bench.

Patterson said, "I'm very happy. The lawyers did an excellent job, and obviously I think the judge did a great job. I was encouraged by my lawyers throughout the whole thing."

Janet Kleinfelter, representing the seven election commissions named in the suit, said Sells would have 30 days from the time the order is filed to appeal the decision. Until then, appointed Judge John Roberts will remain on the bench. If Sells does appeal, Kleinfelter said she was unsure if Patterson could take office while the appeal moved forward.

Sells had no comment following the court's ruling.

Sells' attorney Stephen Zralek had argued at least 24 absentee ballots should be disqualified because the applications did not contain the voters' Social Security numbers. Of those votes, 22 were cast in White County and two in Pickett County. One other vote should also be disqualified because it was cast by a convicted felon, he argued. Because the margin of victory in the election was 10 votes, the election should be voided, he said.

Judge Ben Cantrell of Nashville ruled Wednesday evening state election laws did not require the voter to include Social Security numbers on absentee applications, but did allow the vote by the felon to be disqualified.

Cantrell said, "There is no allegation of fraud, no conspiracy between the election officials and no arbitrary actions by the election officials. The records show this was a clean election."

During the two days of the trial, Zralek argued 130 more absentee ballots should be disqualified because the requests or applications for absentee ballots were not complete.

A number of these absentee ballots were cast in Cumberland County. Zralek said the form, which was approved for use by the state, did not ask voters to specify they would be out of the county during early voting and election day if their reason for voting absentee was being out of the county.

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