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Unsuccessful candidates sue to overturn election

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Two candidates, who lost in the Nov. 6 Riverdale city elections, have filled suit against the city, based on what they believe to be misrepresentation, vote tampering, and illegal campaigning.

Georgia Fuller, who lost the race for the Ward 2 council seat, and Stan Harris, who lost in the Ward 4 race, have filed a petition in Clayton County Superior Court to contest the election.

The suit calls for the results to be voided and for criminal actions to be taken against Councilwoman Michelle Bruce, Councilman Kenny Ruffin, and City Clerk Stephanie Thomas.

Wayne Hall, who is scheduled to run against Bruce in a runoff election on Dec. 4, is listed as a respondent in the lawsuit, but only because the law requires that the suit list all interested parties, said Michael King, the Jonesboro-based attorney, who is representing both Fuller and Harris. King said that no charges would be filled against Hall.

Iris Jessie, who was reported as a respondent in the lawsuit in an earlier report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is not listed in the suit, according to both King and the case file from Clayton Superior Court.

In the lawsuit, Bruce, a transgender politician who identifies as a woman, is accused of misrepresenting herself to voters by identifying herself as a woman on the forms declaring her intention to run for re-election.

King, who identifies Bruce in the lawsuit as "Michael Bruce," said that Bruce is really a man, who misled voters by identifying as a woman, and in doing so, gave herself an unfair advantage. King said Bruce was able to rally more votes running as a woman than she would have been able to running as man.

"Females have a tendency to vote for a female, if another man is running," said King. "We are expecting the evidence to show that her real name is Michael Bruce. We believe that her intent was to fraud the people into believing that she is a female."

Bruce, who responded to the accusations through a media advisor, said that at no time in her life had she ever had the name "Michael," and her driver's license names her as "Mickey Michelle Bruce."

"The lawsuit is frivolous," said Bruce. "It's purely a political tactic. The lawsuit is intended to distract the voters from the real issues in the election -- public safety, creating jobs and safeguarding taxpayer money."

The suit also includes accusations from Harris that Ruffin campaigned at a public event during the Riverdale Fall Festival on Oct. 28 in Travon Wilson Park, an act which he said was illegal, according to campaign rules.

"He had his T-shirt on and his people were working the crowd," said Harris. "We have footage of that. He used a public event to highlight his campaign, plain and simple. People were passing out campaign literature ... he had his campaign signs on the fence."

Kenny Ruffin said he and a few other people were wearing shirts labeled "Ruffin is Right for Riverdale," but he said that no campaign materials were passed out and no signs were present. "We had some shirts on ... but other than that, we weren't passing out anything," said Ruffin. "There were no signs, there were no brochures, there was no information being given out ... there wasn't any campaign.

"He's really reaching, that's what it is," Ruffin continued. "I doubt that there is going to be an election overturned for wearing shirts on a Sunday afternoon at the festival."

Deana Johnson, Riverdale city attorney, doesn't believe the argument that Ruffin was campaigning illegally would hold up in court. "It's not illegal, as long as you are not within 150 feet of an election," said Johnson.

The lawsuit also claims that Thomas, who served as the chief poll manager for the Nov. 6 election, tampered with voting machines and counted 115 absentee and advance voting ballots before the final poll results had been tallied. In addition, the suit claims that Thomas unlawfully kept city officials and the public from viewing the election-counting process.

"We know they locked the public out of the viewing of the final tabulation," said Harris. "The election is supposed to be open to the public. Rick Scoggins was asked to leave the building. That's not normal procedure during a public election."

Johnson, who spoke on behalf of Thomas, said that Thomas was doing what she was trained to do. "It is absolutely false that anybody opened absentee ballots prior to closing of the polls," said Johnson. "I do not believe the suits have merit."

In the past, King has represented several clients suing the city of Riverdale for damages. He represented former Riverdale Police Department sergeant, Phillip Neely, whose discrimination lawsuit against the city was recently dismissed.

He is currently representing another former city police officer, Carl Freeman, who sued the city after he was fired in the wake of an incident at DixieLand Fun Park in Fayette County, which cost him his POST (Police Officer Standard and Training) certification. He is also representing Cleo Magby, a daycare operator who sued the city for damages after she was cited for operating a daycare business without a city license.

Ruffin said that the Jonesboro lawyer has been rallying lawsuits against the city in retaliation after the city council overrode an appointment by Mayor Phaedra Graham in 2004 to make King the city's judge.

King, however, says that Graham never appointed him for any position in the city, and that the suits were completely unrelated. "The lawsuits stand on their own merits," he said. "The clients came to me to help them prosecute their claims."

Johnson said the city would proceed with the Dec. 4 runoff, unless officials receive a cease-and-desist order from Superior Court.