The Tyler law firm Ladd and Thigpen, P.C, petitioned the court for an injunction to stop the election until a list of questions brought forth by its clients concerning the verification process of signatures to place the local beer and wine options on ballots was answered.
Attorney Mathew Thigpen, representing Delores Radford and Richard Lanham, who filed the lawsuit, said based on the timing of the request, which was filed at 4 p.m. Monday, it was not feasible for the election department to stop the election, but asked instead for the court to issue a temporary restraining order to keep the ballots from being counted for 14 days while the court and attorneys could review evidence.
Ms. Radford and Lanham are members of the group Stand Strong for Tyler, a political action group opposed to beer and wine sales.
Andrew Kupper, senior judge for the 286th District Court in West Texas, ruled in favor of the city and county by denying the issuing of a restraining order.
Bob Westbrook, Buy Local First alcohol proponent group chairman, championed the judge's decision.
“Now the voters can go to the polls without worrying …” he said “What the judge did today was right.”
Landmark Baptist Church Pastor Mike Daniels, of Stand Strong for Tyler, said the group had been asking for information from the county about how petition signatures were validated but kept hitting a brick wall.
He said he asked for information several times from the county and received it all in pieces.
“My whole question is why we want to be this way. We (could have prevented) a lawsuit if we sat down and talked about it, but that is not what they wanted to do,” he said, adding the issue raises greater concerns for the validity of all elections in Smith County.
He asserts some basic information was left off some of the county's signatures.
Thigpen said Texas Election code 501.031 states a signature cannot be counted unless it has six criteria: the person's printed and signed name, date of birth, address, date of signing the petition, and the county in which the person lives.
He said some of the information was missing from signatures validated by the county, signatures from dead voters were allegedly counted and others were suspended from voting or now live outside the county.
Thigpen said in the city of Tyler, the research group with Stay Strong Tyler found 215 that had been counted twice.
Tyler City Attorney Gary Landers said the group had the prevalidated signatures, which likely did have duplicate signatures. He said part of the process was to ensure duplicates were not counted. The law firm did not have the final signature list from the city to present as evidence.
“It's not illegal to sign a petition twice,” Landers said.
Thigpen said there were a total of 6,242 signatures in dispute, and said more could be found once the firm obtained the remaining 319 pages of the total 2,000 pages of signatures it was missing from the county,
“(The question is) are we going to have a strict interpretation of the law or can the city and county make assumptions based on the information available,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen also asserts some pages of the county's signatures were not officially stamped and nearly 700 pages did not contain a date of issuance, as required by law. He also asserts freedom of information requests made by his clients were denied or not fully fulfilled.
Shannon Dacus, with the Dacus firm hired by Smith County for the proceedings, said under Texas Election Code 501.037, the commissioners court had the jurisdiction to make the order valid and put the proposal on the ballot.
“I don't think they met their burden (of proof),” she said.
Landers said the city's method of verifying signatures was not the same as the county, even though they are lumped into the same lawsuit. He said they are holding a joint election, but the two entities are as different as the city of Tyler and the federal elections, which are also on the same ballot.
Thigpen said if the two propositions pass, his clients intend to file an election contest to ensure the signature validation process was done in accordance to state law.
“Once we find out any of the propositions have passed, then the next day, we will file the elections contest …” he said. “We will move down that process if necessary. Hopefully the voters of our area vote with their heart and conscience and vote against the propositions, but unfortunately there might be more days in court.”
He said it also would allow the group to gain more evidence against the city of Tyler and the county.