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Judge denies Haynes' bid to rejoin BOE

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield denied a request from former board of education member Norreese Haynes to get a temporary restraining order to stop the board from holding a July 15 special election to select his replacement.

The judge made her decision because she determined the restraining order would have been placed on the wrong group, and would not have stopped the special election from taking place.

Benefield determined that the action should have been sought against Clayton County Board of Elections Director Annie Bright, who schedules and oversees elections in the county, rather than against Clayton school board members.

The special election to replace Haynes, whom the board removed from office in March because of a residency dispute, will continue as scheduled. Haynes did not qualify for the election, so he will not be on the ballot for the election.

Another hearing has been scheduled for May 19 to let the defense present a motion to dismiss the case. Haynes' attorneys said they plan to re-file their request for a restraining order, with Bright included as a defendant, before that date.

"I plan to fight this as long as I can," Haynes said. "The board advised the election supervisor [Bright] my seat was vacant. It was not vacant. I was sitting in it the entire time."

The board of education can declare a seat vacant, but it does not have the authority to call for a special election. Bright is the only person who can call for, and schedule, a special election. She scheduled the election after the school board notified her that Haynes' seat had been declared vacant.

Andy Ramay, the lead attorney for Haynes, filed a request for a restraining order, asking that the judge stop the school board from holding the special election, however.

Winston Denmark, the lead attorney for board members Rod Johnson, David Ashe and Yolanda Everett, and former board chairpersons Ericka Davis and Eddie White, used what amounts to a technicality to keep Haynes from stopping the special election.

"He sued the wrong party," Denmark said. "There is no need to waste time this morning on an evidentiary hearing because of that fact."

Denmark declined to comment on the outcome of the hearing. He said the board designated Dorsey Hopson, the school system's legal counsel, as a spokesperson for the board. Hopson could not be reached for comment, though.

Ramay argued that the board, not Bright, should be the person the restraining order is filed against, because the elections office cannot schedule a special election until the school board declares a seat is vacant.

"How did she know the seat would be vacant?" Ramay asked. "The board of education asked her to schedule the election."

Ramay and Preston Haliburton, Haynes' other attorney, planned to spend over an hour introducing evidence, such as a report from Secretary of State Karen Handel's office which declared Haynes lived in his district.

Benefield refused to let the attorneys introduce their evidence, though. She explained the hearing was only convened to deal with the restraining order requested by their client, and they had to stick to that issue.

Ramay and Haliburton wanted to argue Haynes was removed from office by his colleagues without having an opportunity to defend himself against the conclusion reached by Clayton County police investigators, who said Haynes did not live in his district.

Ramay and Haliburton planned to argue Haynes only kept an apartment in Marietta, because he was taking classes at a University of Phoenix location which is down the street from the apartment. Their plan was to argue he only stayed there on occasion, such as whenever he had a night class or a late-night study session.

"There was never a vacancy to fill," Ramay said. "We want an opportunity to argue the merits of this case."

Ramay was allowed to argue that the restraining order should be granted to prevent a potential waste of taxpayers dollars, however. "The county would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an election, which could later be declared invalid by a judge," Ramay said. "That is clearly not an equitable decision."

Haynes said he will pursue a leadership position on the board -- such as "vice chairman or chairman, if it is available" -- if he is reinstated. The former board member said he is eager to regain his seat because of the school system's accreditation crisis.

Officials from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) gave the district until Sept. 1 to meet nine mandates for improvement. The system will lose its accreditation if the requirements are not met.

"I feel responsible for this, and that is one of the reasons why I'm fighting to get back on the board," Haynes said. "I want an opportunity to go back and try and save the accreditation."