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DA investigates Lovejoy voter records

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

According to lawyers for the City of Lovejoy and Mayor Joe Murphy, the residency of the mayor and several others during the November 2007 city election is the focus of an investigation by the Clayton County District Attorney's Office.

On Sept. 2, representatives of District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson executed a search warrant on Lovejoy City Hall. According to Murphy's attorney, Steve Frey, the district attorney sought declarations of residency that the mayor, his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and several people unrelated to the mayor, had filed during the city's November 2007 election.

"They were searching for some voter registration documentation," Frey said. "They are trying to determine the mayor's address at the time he voted in the 2007 election. We don't really know [why]. We've maintained all along that he has been an eligible voter in every election he has run in, or cast a vote."

Public officials and lawyers on all sides have been secretive about the details of the investigation.

On Wednesday, Lawson confirmed that investigators from her office executed a search warrant at Lovejoy City Hall on Sept. 2. Lawson would not comment on any details of the investigation and refused to release a copy of the search warrant to the media.

The search warrant was unavailable in superior or magistrate court records, as no arrests or charges have been made.

Lovejoy City Attorney Keith Martin would not release a copy of the search warrant on Thursday. However, he maintained that Murphy and his family members continue to hold residence in the city, and did so during the November 2007 election.

"In any event, this is the bottom line, the City of Lovejoy is a single-precinct jurisdiction," Martin said. "Every member of the council and mayor is at-large. Anybody in Lovejoy can vote for any post in the city.

"The mayor and his family lived in Lovejoy, period," he added. "There was no fraud anywhere. If anybody in Lovejoy is authorized to vote in one race, they are able to vote in any race."

The results of the November 2007 election came into question, due to a three-way tie among candidates running for Lovejoy City Council Post 1. Following several recounts -- which produced different winners -- current Lovejoy City Councilman Tommy Green was eventually announced the winner, by a slim margin.

Shortly after the election, Latoshia Gray, one of the candidates in the race, filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the election. However, the suit was dismissed on procedural grounds before it went to trial, according to Frey.

Frey said that around the time of the election, Murphy attempted to move from his residence on Talmadge Road in Lovejoy, to a property he built on the same street. Murphy said both homes are within the city limits.

"Murphy had moved at one point," Frey said. "He lived in his prior residence and then he built a duplex on some property and was looking at moving into it, and was unable to get a street address on it. Because he had always lived in the district, that issue was not addressed."

Frey said he has "suspicions" about why the matter of Murphy's residence is being investigated at this time, but said "I will keep them to myself."

Martin said the subject of Murphy's residence is an issue that was flushed out following the November 2007. He said he doesn't know why the issue is coming back now.

"This has been heard by the state election board," he said. "It's been addressed in the state court of Clayton County. Why two years later, the DA wants to get involved, I have no idea. I don't know what their focus is. I know where they went, [and] I know what they left with."