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Judge to determine House District 10 challenge this week

The challenge to David Cole’s election will be heard by the House of Representatives, but the process is in question.

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A Madison County Circuit Court judge gave no indication Monday on which way she might rule on a motion to dismiss an election challenge against Rep. David Cole, although she seemed skeptical that the court had no role in the proceedings. 

After briefly hearing from attorneys representing Cole and plaintiff Elijah Boyd, who ran as the Libertarian candidate for the District 10 seat, Judge Ruth Ann Hall told the attorneys she would have a decision by the end of the week. 

The challenge to Cole’s election came after APR reported that he and his family appeared to still be living in their District 4 home, according to tax records and other documents. Boyd filed his challenge shortly after Cole’s election last month. 

Following the hearing, Cole and the attorneys declined to comment further. 

During the hearing, however, Boyd’s attorney, Barry Ragsdale, and Cole’s attorney, Al Agricola, mostly agreed on how the election challenge should be handled – right up to the point of the court’s involvement. 

Both attorneys acknowledged that state statute and the constitution provide a unique pathway for the challenge once a candidate is sworn into office. At that point, they said, the issue becomes one for the legislature to determine – the House of Representatives in this case. They also agreed that the challenge had to be filed in the county circuit court clerk’s office, that the parties can take written depositions and that the process must follow the standard rules of civil procedure. 

Where they disagree, however, is on the court’s role. 

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Agricola argued that the constitution makes it clear that the entire matter should be handled by the House members. Ragsdale said state statute passed by the legislature makes it clear that while the House will ultimately hear the case and make a ruling, it should be the court that oversees the preliminary process, such as taking depositions, settling various disputes and holding the two sides to deadlines. 

Judge Hall seemed somewhat more inclined to buy that the court should have a role, agreeing with Ragsdale that the full House wasn’t equipped to handle basic rules of procedure or settle common arguments that might arise during the deposition process. However, she also agreed with Agricola that the state constitution doesn’t appear to involve the circuit court. 

Should Hall deny the motion to dismiss, the parties can begin taking depositions and the matter can be heard by the House when it comes into session in the spring.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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