By Curt Yeomans
Attorneys for former Clayton County Board of Education member Norreese Haynes got a small reward last week for being persistent in their efforts to stop a special election which would replace their client.
It has been three months since five of Haynes' colleagues voted in favor of a resolution which declared his seat vacant. The former board member has been fighting to keep his seat since then.
Despite attempts by attorneys for the Clayton County Board of Education to have Haynes' lawsuit thrown out, Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield added the Clayton County Board of Elections, on May 30, as a defendant in the case. Attorneys for the former board member are optimistic about what Benefield's decision means for their chances of winning the case.
"Hopefully, we'll go back to court and have a hearing on this," said Anderson Ramay, Jr., one of Haynes' attorneys. "Basically, we cured the deficiency she [Benefield] claimed we had in our case."
Attorneys for both sides were waiting to hear Benefield's decision on whether to dismiss the case outright, or let it continue. The judge's decision will determine the future of the July 15 special election to replace Haynes as the District 8 representative on the school board, and it could affect the school system's accreditation crisis.
Confirming the residencies of all board members is one of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' (SACS) nine mandates for improving the school system. The district has to meet all of the mandates by Sept. 1, or the accrediting agency will revoke its accreditation.
Haynes has been fighting to stop the special election since early March. The board members' decision against him was based on the results of a Clayton County Police investigation, which determined that Haynes lived in an apartment in Marietta, instead of the Morrow address he used when he ran for office in 2006.
An investigation conducted this spring by Secretary of State Karen Handel's office, however, concluded that Haynes did live in his district.
Attorneys for the five school board members argued that their clients did not call for the special election, and Benefield indicated that she saw merit in their argument during a May 21 motion hearing. Haynes' attorneys responded the same day by filing a request to add the Board of Elections as a defendant.
But Jack Hancock, one of the attorneys for the board of elections, argued in a May 29 brief that the board of elections should not be added, because Haynes waited too long to contest the decision to hold the election.
"Haynes does not proffer any excuse or justification for having failed to name and serve the Board of Elections previously," Hancock wrote in his brief. "Given that O.C.G.A. 45-5-1 sets forth Haynes' only potential relief, and given that under 45-5-1, Haynes failed to timely appeal the decision of the Board of Elections to call a special election to fill his vacant seat, Haynes has waived his right to all existing legal relief."
Hancock, and other legal representatives for the board of elections, could not be reached on Monday for comment.
Ramay said the Georgia Supreme Court case, Jordan V. Cook, which said a person who has been removed from an elected office can not file an appeal after a special election has taken place, works in Haynes' favor. "Our stance is that as long as it happens before the election, then we haven't waited too long," Ramay said.
Winston Denmark, one of the attorneys for the five school board members, argued in a May 30 brief that the case should still be dismissed, because the board of education did not call for the election, and Haynes' attorneys waited too long to take legal action against the board of elections.
"Haynes is confused by, and continues to be fixated on, the actions of the Board of Education," Denmark said. "He sees their action as a wrongful removal from office ... The board did, in fact, have him physically removed or escorted from a public meeting, but that did not constitute a legal removal from office."
Ramay said Denmark was "backpedaling," though, because of the assertion that it was the board of education's decision on March 3 which set everything in motion. Ramay said the merits of the case favor Haynes, and defense attorneys do not want those merits to be argued during a hearing.
If a hearing is held, Ramay's argument would rely heavily on the testimony of Chris Harvey, the deputy inspector general who conducted the investigation for Secretary of State Handel. Haynes would also testify that he only had the apartment in Marietta because he was attending classes at the University of Phoenix's Cobb County campus.
"We think the secretary of state's report would carry a lot of weight," Ramay said. "That's why they [the board of educaton members] want this case dismissed. They know we win, if we get to argue the merits of this case."