Flowers’ votes may not count

District 14 Alabama Senate candidate Steve Flowers’ name will appear on the June 4 ballot, but his votes may not count

at all.

Circuit Judge Michael Joiner ruled Friday morning that he would hear the case on June 5 at 10 a.m., the morning after the primary and prior to the state party’s June 10 certification of the vote.

However, Flowers said Friday afternoon in Clanton that Circuit Judge Charles Price in Montgomery still had authority over the case for a trial on June 26, the day after the primary run-off, and indicated Price would hold Republicans to still count the votes.

&uot;I think this is a frivolous long shot&uot; effort to &uot;circumvent the legal system,&uot; said Flowers of Republican efforts to get the case in Shelby County.

&uot;You can’t start a case in one court and go to another

I think Judge Price will make (state Republican Party Chairman) Marty Connors count my votes.&uot;

Flowers is running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Bill Armistead, R-Columbiana. No Democrats are running, meaning the primary involving four GOP candidates would decide the race.

The state Republican Party and Flowers’ attorney Bert Jordan were back in court in Shelby County Thursday.

The Republican Party and Connors filed a civil suit against Flowers requesting Joiner declare that votes for Flowers were non-votes because of his status as a disqualified candidate.

Connors said he was pleased with the ruling.

&uot;We want the merits of residency and the authority of the parties to be re-established,&uot; he said. &uot;This is what we’ve been seeking for two months, and we finally got it.&uot;

In the meantime, however, Connors is clear concerning the present position of the Republican Party.

&uot;We are not going to certify the votes cast for Mr. Flowers, because he’s an illegal candidate,&uot; he said.

Joiner also ruled to dismiss the other defendants in the case, Shelby County Republican Executive Committee chairman Beth Chapman, Bibb County chairman Bob Jamison; Chilton County chairman Mike Smith; and Jefferson County chairman Jim Smotherman.

The county Republican Party chairmen were named in the suit, party attorney Ed Allen said, because they are charged with certifying the vote to the state party chairman.

&uot;We’re asking they be ordered not to certify Flowers’ votes,&uot; Allen

said, &uot;because he’s not physically a resident of the district.&uot;

Vicky Balogh, the director of elections at the Secretary of State’s Office, said the county party chapters certify the local results on June 7, three days before the state party certifies the results. In party primaries, the state allows the party to handle all the certification, Balogh said.

Bibb County chairman Jamison and Chilton County chairman Smith were not present at the Shelby County Courthouse on Thursday.

Shelby County chairman Chapman and her attorney Butch Ellis were present along with Jefferson County chairman Smotherman and his attorney Colin Luke.

Ellis told Judge Joiner he planned to file an answer with the court.

&uot;Beth Chapman is here solely to represent the Republican Party of Shelby County,&uot; he said.

Chapman, who is running for Alabama state auditor, agreed.

&uot;For legal reasons, I’m only involved in my capacity as chairman of the party.

&uot;I will abide by the ruling as issued by the court. I only hope the end result is whatever is best for the Republican Party and the people of Shelby County and our state,&uot; she said.

Allen told Joiner he planned to put Connors on the stand and enter into evidence information regarding Flowers’ original disqualification in April, when a party candidate committee ruled he was ineligible to run for the senate seat because he did not live in District 14. Flowers still maintains he meets the requirements for the district, which covers portions of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties, as well as three boxes in Jefferson County. Price ruled that the party acted after the deadline and that Flowers’ name must remain on the ballot for June 4.

&uot;None (of the earlier rulings) has ever said we couldn’t judge his qualifications, just that we can’t keep him off the ballot,&uot; Allen told the court.

Connors explained the process of running for office on a party ticket.

&uot;Think of it like the NCAA. We make the rules that the candidates have to follow,&uot; Connors said. &uot;The judge can rule that he keeps his uniform, but he has to follow the same rules as everybody else (residency).&uot;

Flowers’ attorney Bert Jordan said he was in court Friday morning with Price. Jordan had no comment regarding Joiner’s ruling, but said Price was explicit in his thoughts.

&uot;He said he did not believe Connors would violate a court order and not certify those votes,&uot; Jordan said.

Price noted in his ruling there was a method already in place for contesting a candidate’s eligibility before the party after balloting is completed.

Balogh said that occurs after certification has taken place.

Jordan objected to Thursday’s hearing because, he said, it was in conflict to Price’s order. He urged Joiner to &uot;keep your hands off right now&uot; if he possibly could.

&uot;How the courts are supposed to deal with this is very limited. It makes sense to just let the people go through the voting process,&uot; Jordan said.

Jordan said he was also not willing to concede that state senators must live in the districts they represent.

&uot;(Alabama law) does not require senators to be residents of their districts,&uot; he said. Flowers has maintained state law says a senator can live in either the district or the county.

Allen disagreed, stating that what Jordan referred to was a section of the law relevant in 1901, when representative district lines were county lines, an issue that would not apply in this case as Flowers is running for a senate seat.

Jordan’s other objection was based on his contention that Connors was a party in the suit filed in Price’s court in Montgomery. Therefore, he could not be a party to this civil action in Shelby County.

However, Allen said Connors had withdrawn as a party to the Montgomery suit.

&uot;Judge Price does not have to issue an order,&uot; Allen said. &uot;We were not present as a party at any time in Montgomery.&uot;

Price disagreed, according to Jordan.

&uot;Judge Price said you can’t come to court and try to ‘duck out.’ He used those words, ‘duck out,’&uot; Jordan said.

Connors said Friday Joiner’s action is important in that Joiner’s courtroom is in the senate district, as opposed to Price’s courtroom in Montgomery.

&uot;Why has Flowers been fighting so desperately to keep the case out of Shelby County and in Montgomery?&uot; Connors asked.

Flowers later responded the case originated in Montgomery and is still in Price’s jurisdiction. As such, Flowers said the case cannot be moved to Shelby County.

Flowers said Price has already agreed to settle all the same arguments in his court starting June 26. Price held a pre-trial hearing on Friday in that case, declaring he still had jurisdiction in the case, he said. Flowers said Price could have final authority to certify the election in the case, although Connors could appeal Price’s final decisions.

He noted a federal judge panel also recently ruled Price is the final authority in the case and strongly indicated the votes should be counted.

The court ordered the Republican Party to pay his fees in that court, Flowers said, noting his overall fees have amounted to $20,000. He said he may sue to get the party to pay for his other legal fees.

Hank Erwin, another candidate for the seat, said voters have been left confused.

&uot;In my opinion, I think there is a misunderstanding of Flowers being on the ballot in the eyes of the voters,&uot; Erwin said. &uot;He’s still disqualified. He will not be certified. The Republican Party has stated emphatically his votes will be thrown out because he has not established residency.&uot;

In fact, if the Alabama Republican Party &uot;decides to cave in and certify the votes, the other candidates will probably file suit&uot; in court against the party, Erwin said.

&uot;The other candidates have done everything required to be legal. Why should they be victims?&uot; he asked