Nearly a year after the municipal elections that returned every incumbent elected official, a simmering electoral legal battle convened in an Elmore County courtroom this week.
The election contest called by District Two City Council Member Percy Gill’s opponent, former council member Lewis Washington Sr., entered its trial phase Monday before Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds.
On Tuesday Washington’s attorney, Algert Agricola Jr, said the outcome was not yet determined but the case was over as far as the presentation of evidence.
He said Reynolds took the matter under advisement, and now they are awaiting his deliberation.
“He’s going to issue an order at some point in the future,” said Agricola.
As for potential outcomes, he said Reynolds could instate Washington on the council or Gill could remain a council member.
He said they presented the testimony of a number of witnesses against Gill, and with that presentation attempted to show that as many as eight absentee ballots were illegally cast. That, according to Agricola would change Gill’s 168 total in last year’s election to 160, giving Washington the lead by five points from his 165.
Of those votes, he said, the reason behind their purported illegality varied slightly but most dealt with the minutiae of absentee ballot voting procedures.
Some he said did not have requisite witness signatures.
A handwriting expert was called for others, which Agricola said appeared to be signed by someone other than the person whose name was on the ballot. In one instance he said one person admitted he authorized his grandfather to sign the absentee affidavit.
Asked what he thought the outcome should be, “We believe that Washington should be declared (winner).”
Prior to the trial, Gill delivered a foreboding message.
“I want the citizens to kind of play close attention to what goes on in the city,” said Gill. “Start to pay more attention to what takes place in our local government.”
And he gave cause for concern over what he said amounted to voter intimidation tactics used in the process of gathering testimony from voters.
“I was concerned because of the people who were being deposed,” Gill said, adding there were “quite a few seniors,” very young and inconsistent voters among them. “This is nothing, no one expects to be called to court exercising their right to vote.”
Since late August 2016’s election results were released, attorneys for both sides have been building their cases.
On one side is Washington, with accusations of wrongdoing levied indirectly against Gill’s campaign and his three-point victory.
In an Aug. 26, 2016 press release Washington stated, “Our Campaign had been on alert for quite some time prior to the election concerning individuals not associated with our campaign and that they might be attempting to influence the outcome of the District Two City Council race by actions that could possibly be illegal according to the election laws of the state of Alabama.”
On the other side is Gill, who has proclaimed since the emergence of the first of electoral fraud claims that every voting procedure was followed properly by his camp and that the responsibility or culpability was the city’s.
He has maintained that the case is essentially a proxy lawsuit through Washington on behalf of the city at the mayor’s direction.
“I know for sure we haven’t done anything wrong,” Gill said.
The initial rumblings of an electoral contest came from a press release issued by Washington, that included a statement made by City Attorney Regina Edwards to both candidates in which said she had been notified of the potential “improprieties.”
She said in the statement that the Elmore County Board of Registrars had notified her that from the marked voters list some who voted in District Two were not on the District Two voter list.
Both Gill and his attorney have said that issue should have been raised with the city and its election officials, since the origin of the problem was said to be the voter rolls.
“If you’re suing me for an election, and I don’t have anything to do with the oversight of the election,
why wasn’t the lawsuit brought against the city?” said Gill.
From its start, Gill has also made known his suspicion that this was a city machination to oust him.
He has been the most vocal critic of a number of decisions made by the council and an outspoken critic of a number of Mayor Jerry Willis’ decisions.
“I’m not one of the favorites on the council because of the issues that I address,” Gill said.
His electoral opponent, Washington, maintained nearly zero visibility throughout his campaign, seldom appearing publicly and staying distant from media attempts to contact him.
Washington’s attorney, Algert Agricola Jr., would not say much prior to the trial.
“We have taken a number of depositions in the case and so there are certain things that the testimony has shown that will be brought in trial,” said Agricola. “We have deposed people in the course of the litigation that had voted by absentee ballots.”
It was those depositions, Gill said, he was concerned about.