Oct. 27, 2003
Attorney for Kemper Democratic committee on contested sheriff's race
To the editor:
I am the attorney for the Kemper County Democratic Party Executive Committee and have been involved in the election contest proceedings since the certification of the runoff election on Aug. 27. Other than an initial telephone call from Mr. Steve Gillespie soon after this controversy arose, I have not been contacted by The Meridian Star in regard to any of the several articles written.
While I do not think that my comments are required reading, I do think that fairness would dictate the contacting of counsel for all sides in a matter. Given the last two articles, I guess that The Star is interested in carrying only one side.
Specifically, on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003, The Star ran a front-page article concerning the filing of the petition for judicial review of the election and citing allegations from the petition. That petition was filed late on Thursday, Oct. 9, and the file was signed out to me immediately following the filing, so as to permit my copying and reviewing the petition. Due to family reasons, the file was returned early the following Monday morning. There was no way in which The Star could have obtained a copy of the petition or learned any of the details thereof from the court clerk, since (a) I had the file and (b) neither the clerk nor I was contacted by The Star. This article was sourced obviously from Meridian.
Also, on Wednesday, Oct. 22, The Star ran an article concerning the possible delay in the trial of the contest case. I say "possible" because, at this time, there is no order resetting the case and the attorneys have not discussed any potential scheduling, and there is still in effect an order setting the trial for Wednesday, Oct. 29. Once again, neither the clerk nor I was contacted, and the proposed order is still sitting unsigned in DeKalb.
This all follows the series of articles in which The Star has quoted Mr. Harpole's petition at length, while practically ignoring the findings of the Executive Committee, which unanimously adopted and determined factual and legal matters in writing. After I publicly explained the committee's decision, I provided to The Star's writer a copy of the findings. Since that time, I have not been contacted, while the counsel for Mr. Harpole has been quoted extensively in each article. Of eight (8) articles since Sept. 18, five (5) open with a statement followed by a variation of "Harpole's attorney said…" and a sixth column consists almost wholly of comments from Mr. Harpole's attorney about the possible delay of the trial.
The Star continues to assert that dead people, nonresidents, and felons were involved in the election. However, in the public hearing, Mr. Harpole's attorney was asked to name all those alleged as being dead, moved or convicted of felonies. The committee was able to determine that none of those named were dead or disqualified and so stated in writing. However, these findings are scarcely cited, while the petition and the plaintiff's counsel are cited repeatedly.
Also, The Star continues to state that the committee acted in secret and denied subpoenas to witnesses. The deliberations were limited to committee members, just like any jury would do. However, the hearing itself, like any trial, was openly public, and the decision was announced and explained publicly by me. Counsel for Mr. Harpole wanted subpoenas issued in blank, and the chairman simply ruled that he did not want the process abused by signing blank documents which then could have been filled in later to call unknown witnesses, at the possible liability of the committee. Subpoenas were not requested, and no witnesses were offered at the public hearing. Once again, The Star has not discussed any of these matters with me.
This matter has been divisive and complicated enough, without having the public shown only one side by The Star. Since I can still be found at the same location and number as originally contacted by The Star, I can assume only that The Star does not desire to present both sides evenly.
Marvin E. Wiggins Jr.