Pending Appeal, Patterson Soon To Assume Bench As New Criminal Court Judge

September 29, 2006
Dwayne Page

Almost two months after the August 3rd election, it appears there is now a winner in the race for Criminal Court Judge Part II in the 13th Judicial District.

Retired Nashville Judge Ben Cantrell, appointed to hear the election contest lawsuit filed by Lillie Ann Sells, dismissed the case Wednesday night after hearing two days of testimony in the Putnam County Chancery Court hearing.

Judge Sells, who lost her re-election bid to challenger David Patterson by 10 votes, asked that the election be voided

Sells filed her \"contest of election\" suit on August 17, alleging that various irregularities occurred in the voting on election day and asking the Chancery Court to review her allegations and either declare her the winner or order a new election.

Among her allegations are claims that convicted felons voted in one county, that voters applying for absentee ballots were not required to furnish their Social Security numbers, that voters spent too much time in the voting booths in some instances, and that a non-resident of the district was allowed to vote in one county.

Judge Cantrell ruled that he could find only one or two votes that shouldn't count. One of those ballots was cast by a convicted felon in White County. The other was an absentee ballot signed by someone who assisted the voter, with no witness signature present.

The other contested ballots had missing information, such as a Social Security number, reason for voting absentee or dates of the voter's absence.

Many of the requests or applications for absentee ballots were elderly voters, who are allowed by law to vote absentee if they are over 65 years old. However Stephen Zralek of Nashville, Sells' attorney, said that those votes should not be counted when the voter's age is not specifically listed as the reason for voting absentee, even though the voter's birth date is clearly on the application.

Zralek claimed that those missing items were necessary in order to process applications for absentee voting, according to the law governing absentee ballots. Zralek contended that the strict rules of absentee voting should be followed, saying, \"The violations of the statute affect the freedom and purity of the ballot. Either the law is strictly complied or it's not.\"

Defense attorneys argued that Sells' complaint over the election alleges no fraud or purposeful wrongdoing on the part of administrators or voters in that election.

Judge Cantrell sided with the defense saying there was no proof of any fraud, no allegations of any fraud and no proof of conspiracy. The judge said he didn't believe that the statute requires applications for absentee ballots to list Social Security numbers.

Sells has 30 days to appeal Judge Cantrell's decision.

John M. Roberts of Livingston has been serving as an appointed interim judge, pending the outcome of this case.

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