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Judge Rhea finds he has no jurisdiction to rule on Lipscomb’s eligibility


Monday, Etowah County Circuit Judge William Rhea (D) ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction to rule on House District 30 candidate, Brandon Craig Lipscomb’s (R) qualifications to be on the November 6 general election ballot. The suit was brought by his opponent, Jared Vaughn (D).

Vaughn claimed that Lipscomb’s missing of an April 30 deadline to file his 2017 Statement of Economic Interests form (SEI) is grounds for disqualification.

Lipscomb filed a SEI form when he qualified for office on November 30, but that was for 2016. He was certified as a candidate by the Alabama Ethics Commission;

After Monday’s hearing Lipscomb released a statement critical of Vaughn’s suit.

“It is beyond reprehensible that Jared Vaughn, an attorney and my opponent, tried to abuse our court system in an attempt to bypass our election process,” Lipscomb wrote. “Judge Rhea dismissed this frivolous lawsuit and I am hopeful that Mr. Vaughn will stop wasting our taxpayer dollars and abusing our judicial system. I am honored to be the Republican nominee for the Alabama House of Representatives and I look forward to the November election when voters will decide the outcome of this election.”

Vaughn told the Alabama Political Reporter that the judge did not rule that his case was “frivolous” and that he has no personal animosity against Lipscomb, but that he believes that everyone should be held to the same standard of ethics whether there is an R behind their name or not.

“No finding was made by the court that there was any abuse of our court system or that there was any attempt to bypass our election process,” Vaughn said. “Craig Lipscomb, an architect and my opponent, keeps regarding to any legal action taken against his legitimacy as a candidate as frivolous. Judge Rhea did not rule on the merits of the facts of the case, but merely ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction in the matter before him. The fact remains that no court has yet determined if Mr. Lipscomb’s Statement of Economic Interest was properly and timely filed by April 30th as is required by 36-25-15(c) of the Alabama Code. Craig Lipscomb doesn’t argue when it comes to the facts surrounding his SEI filing.”

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“Mr. Lipscomb would have you believe that candidates aren’t required to have current filings for the prior year filed by April 30th of each year,” Vaughn continued. “Mr. Lipscomb knows that he is deficient regarding his SEI filing and he knows that he deprived the people of District 30 a transparent view of his potential conflicts for 93 days between April 30th and August 1st. He knows that such is in conflict with 36.25-15(c). And He knows that these legal actions against him aren’t frivolous. I am honored to be the Democratic nominee for the Alabama House of Representatives and I look forward to the November election when voters will decide the outcome of this election.”

“I cannot wait to honor the office by serving with integrity and commitment, and I cannot wait to deliver the results that serving with such qualities will provide to the constituents of House District 30,” Vaughn added. “It’s long past time that we demand that our leaders be held to equal standards of accountability. That means one set of rules for everyone. That means candidates too Mr. Lipscomb.”

In court, Vaughn’s attorney, Chris Christie, argued that Vaughn is asking for a ruling from the court that Lipscomb’s failure to file his State of Economic Interests until August 1, well after the April 30 deadline means that Lipscomb can not be a qualified candidate and that the Judge should rule that and forward that ruling to the Secretary of State’s office.

Lipscomb’s attorney, Al Agricola, argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over this matter because under the Alabama Constitution the legislative branch sets their own requirements for office and it is not the constitutional place for the courts to interfere.

Last month, Lipscomb’s Republican Primary runoff opponent, former Ashville Mayor Robert McKay (R) had sued arguing that Judge Rhea should disqualify Lipscomb from the ballot over this same issue.

Agricola, who represented Lipscomb in both cases, argued that McKay missed the 24 hour deadline to appeal the result of a primary election and that Vaughn is to early. Agricola said that Vaughn has 20 days after the general election on November 6 to challenge the results of that election and that appeal would be heard by the Speaker of the Alabama House and not by the courts. Agricola also argued that the April 30 deadline only applies to officeholders, not to candidates.

Secretary of State’s office attorney Brent Beal argued that once a candidate is qualified and has been certified by the Ethics Commission that it is not reasonable to then disqualify them due to the April 30 deadline. In presidential election years, the primary is in March which is before the April 30 deadline. Beal said that the Ethics Commission can levy fines against candidates who miss the deadline.

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Christie said that there up to ten Republican candidates including a Public Service Commission (PSC) candidate (Jeremy Oden) that this also applies to.

Judge Rhea did not address the merits, or the lack of, of Vaughn’s complaint, but merely ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction.

Vaughn and his counsel are still deciding whether or not to appeal the ruling to the Court of Civil Appeals.

House District 30 includes parts of Etowah and Calhoun counties.

The general election will be November 6.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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