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Questions raised over candidate’s eligibility

MONTICELLO — The deadline for candidates qualifying for schoolboard and election commissioner offices and a special election forJustice Court Judge Post 2 passed quietly Friday.

MONTICELLO — The deadline for candidates qualifying for schoolboard and election commissioner offices and a special election forJustice Court Judge Post 2 passed quietly Friday.

The qualification of Albert Turnage Thursday, however, hasraised some questions. Turnage, who lives in Post 1, was appointedby the board of supervisors as the interim Post 2 judge Jan. 5after Justice Court Judge Post 2 Maxie Carey Rutland died in lateDecember, 1999, after winning re-election in November.

Turnage’s decision to campaign for the office is a departurefrom his decision in January. According to the Jan. 6 edition ofThe DAILY LEADER, Turnage said he was proud to accept the post, butwould not seek the office during the special election because helives outside the district.

Turnage said he began to consider running a month or two agowhen people started asking him if he would. He researched the lawsand believes that the office qualifications require a candidate tolive in the county and are not limited to living in thedistrict.

According to Turnage, the State Constitution of 1890 statedcandidates must be a resident of the district, but when it wasamended in 1979 the word district was changed to county, therebyopening the office to all county residents.

“I think I meet the residency requirements,” Turnage said. “If Ididn’t, I wouldn’t run.”

The Office of the Secretary of State, which oversees elections,and the Attorney General’s Office, however, believe otherwise.

“We have previously opined that candidates for office of justicecourt judge must be lawful residents of the district they seek toserve,” according to an opinion issued by the AG’s Office in June1997. “Section 250 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 statesthat ‘qualified electors and no others shall be eligible foroffice.’ If a candidate is a resident of one justice courtdistrict, he cannot be a qualified elector of another justice courtdistrict.”

David Blount, communications director for the State Department,said they agreed with the AG’s opinion.

The qualifications included in the “Qualifications and Fees forCandidates: Revised July 1998” pamphlet issued by the StateDepartment states one of the office’s qualifications as “a residentof the county and district two years preceding the day ofelection.”

Election commissioners will have to decide Monday whether tocertify Turnage as a legitimate candidate when they meet to certifycandidates for all local offices.

Turnage said he has not decided whether he would pursue theoffice with a Petition for Review if they elected not to certifyhim. Under the Petition for Review, Turnage said, a circuit courtjudge could reverse or affirm the decision of the electioncommissioners.

“I would have to see what I would do at that point,” hesaid.

Interest in the special election is high, with a total of ninecandidates qualifying. Besides Turnage, other candidates includeJames H. Ard, James E. “Jamie” Givens Jr., Verla Davis Dillon,Gregory L. May, Curtis “Curt” Brister, James “Sandy” Brister,Donald Glen “Donnie” Mullins and Homer Sutton.

Ard and Davis Dillon are the only candidates of the nine whochallenged Rutland in the 2000 election. Rutland, who held the postfor more than 20 years, handily won the primary with 1,392 votesfollowed by Davis Dillon at 643 and Ard with 540 votes.

Other local offices appearing on the Nov. 7 ballot includeSchool Board districts 3 and 4 and all five election commissionerdistricts.

School Board District 4 incumbent Denise Bishop will not seekre-election. Jack J. Wellborn Sr. is the only qualifier for theoffice.

No challengers face the incumbents for any other office.