So the Joe Cooper case was closed last week when the Shelby County Election Commission certified the October 8 ballot without him, , and the one-time County Squire, whose political career was twice sidelined through misadventures with the law, will not be a candidate, right?
Wrong. Cooper's candidacy is still technically alive, pending a hearing in Chancery Court next week on his petition for a writ of mandamus that would, if successful, compel the Election Commission to include him on this year's Memphis city election ballot.
Cooper, who announced several months ago he would be a candidate for the City Council's Position 2, Super District 9 seat and had begun campaigning, was apparently foiled when this year's July 16 filing deadline passed before he was able to get representatives of the District Attorney General's office to join him in Circuit Court for a routine hearing on the restoration of his right to run for office.
At a meeting of the Election Commission on July 23, Cooper's appeal to be included on the ballot was turned down by the Commission on advice from its attorney, John Ryder, who said the Commission lacked the power to change state law, which required that Cooper had to possess full rights of citizenship and had to have submitted a petition of candidacy with 25 valid signatures.
It gets complicated, but in essence the problem was this: Cooper had forfeited his citizenship rights by virtue of a 2007 felony conviction, his second, on charges of money laundering. He had cooperated with the government as a witness in other prosecutions and had served his time and had even formally regained his voting rights in 2011 but still required a court certification of his full citizenship rights to pursue a political candidacy.
Prior to the Election Commission hearing, Chancellor Jim Kyle had denied Cooper a writ of mandamus on the grounds that he had not gathered 25 qualifying signatures by the filing deadline. Cooper had argued that he was the victim of a Catch 22, in that he had been advised, both by the state and by the Election Commission, that he could not legally obtain signatures without a prior restoration of his right of candidacy.
On Monday of this week, Cooper, along with witnesses testifying in his favor, finally was able to arrange a joint hearing in Circuit Court with representatives of the District Attorney General's office, and Judge Robert “Butch” Childers duly issued an order restoring Cooper's rights. Cooper subsequently obtained 25 legal signatures of District 9 voters and, armed with them and with a citation of section of the U.S. code dealing with “Civil action for deprivation of rights,” sought and obtained a new hearing in Chancellor Kyle's courtroom.
On Thursday afternoon Chancellor Kyle issued a temporary restraining order, preventing the Election Commission from publishing a ballot until a hearing in his court at 11 a.m. on Thursday, August 6, at which time he will presumably rule on Cooper's request for a writ of mandamus.