Judge to rule on mayoral contest later this month

Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill looks on during Monday’s hearing concerning Democratic candidate Johnny Moore’s challenge of last May’s election results.

SDN Editor

Special Judge Barry Ford said from the bench on Monday that he would soon rule on the mayoral election contest between Starkville Mayor Lynn Spruill and Democratic challenger Johnny Moore.

Tuesday marks a full year since Spruill was sworn in to the city's highest office, but the uncertainty surrounding the results will persist until July 20, when a final ruling is expected.

The first of two previously scheduled hearings was held Monday, which saw Judge Ford meet with Starkville election commissioners behind closed doors for roughly an hour.

An additional hearing date for July 19 at 9 a.m. was also set by Judge Ford, which will bring back the election commissioners and legal counsels from both sides. It will be closed to the public and media.

“I’ll rule on (the results) on the 20th, but the 19th is a different matter,” Judge Ford said from the bench.

He then said he would not open an affidavit ballot that he had ruled he would look at until the next hearing.

The Starkville Daily News previously reported a total of eight affidavit ballots were in question, along with one absentee ballot challenged by Moore’s team and another absentee ballot challenged by Spruill’s team.

Judge Ford did, however, comment on how close the race was.

“It is apparent to the court that there were two really good candidates running for mayor because the community is almost equally divided as to who should be mayor,” he said. “Miss Spruill, you’re mayor and you may well be mayor after something, you may not, I’m just going to call it like I see it.”

Moore’s legal counsel William Starks declined to provide any predictions on the outcome to the Starkville Daily News, but said their team was excited to finally see a decision for the year-long challenge.

“We have a hearing set for (July 19), which you know the judge will open some of the ballots, I don’t know how many or what but he will announce that then, then on (July 20) he will announce his final ruling so we are excited for that to come to a conclusion.”

Attorney Jim Mozingo, Spruill’s legal counsel, said he thinks the hearing on July 19 will see Judge Ford meet with both sides and election commissioners so he can go over what he has actually opened and what he has not.

“I think (Judge Ford) is trying to be as careful about it as he possibly can with the names of some individuals and ballots are out there,” Mozingo said. “He doesn’t want to make that bigger and them get drug into this, and it really goes against the idea of secret ballot and that’s all been unfortunate, but it’s a matter of necessity.”

He then praised the efforts of Judge Ford in overseeing the case.

“It’s another part of the process and even though it looks a little slower, I think this is what due process is all about,” Mozingo said. “Nobody has any complaints the way Judge Ford has handled this. He’s been clear and easy to understand about what he wanted. You can’t beat that.”

Spruill was certified as the winner of the mayoral race by seven votes last May and became the city’s first female mayor. 

Moore immediately challenged the results, which led to Ford being appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court to oversee the case.