Wednesday, March 20, 2002



Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2002 at 4:00 AM

The campaign manager for lawyer Guthrie Castle, a Democratic primary candidate for the District 5 County Commission seat, charged the Shelby County Election Commission Tuesday with abdication of its legal and moral responsibility in declining to rule on the validity of Castle’s complaints regarding opponent Joe Cooper‘s financial disclosures. “It’s sad that fear of not being elected or appointed comes before the moral authority of this commission,” Jeff Sullivan told members moments after his effort to invalidate Cooper’s candidacy was ruled beyond the purview of the commission. At the time the vote was taken at the heel of the meeting, only three members were sill present, but one of those who left early, Republican member Rich Holden, had said that the Commission members were in agreement on all the matters then still pending -- presumably including the Castle complaint, which had been belatedly added to the agenda by Chairman O.C. Pleasant. Castle’s complaint, formally presented by Sullivan, charged that Cooper’s most recent financial disclosures evidenced illegally large contributions from individuals and other entities, defiance of disclosure obligations in the case of outstanding debts, inaccurate information, and a variety of other “illegal contributions and illegal loans.” Therefore, said the complaint, Cooper should be declared ineligible to run, and “the illegalities and improprieties reflected in Mr. Cooper’s Campaign Disclosure Statements should be referred by this Commission to the District Attorney and the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for investigation and appropriate action.” Also presented by Sullivan was a statement from Tony Dailey, general manager of Clear Channel Outdoor, alleging that an unpaid debt from one of frequent candidate Cooper’s prior campaigns in the amount of $23,700 constituted “an involuntary, but illegal, contribution.” Philip Kaminsky. the Commission’s attorney, advised members that Tennessee election law did not permit the county Election Commission, whose function was primarily "ministerial," to act as requested in the case of the "Class 2" violations cited by the Castle complaint. He said the commission was empowered only to assess fines and other minor penalties for such "Class 1" violations as late filings of disclosures. He suggested that complaints like Castle’s should be taken directly either to the office of the state Election Registry in Nashville, to the office of the District Attorney General, or to that of the state Attorney General.. The three Commission members still on hand -- Democrats Pleasant and Myra Styles and Republican Nancye Hines - then voted unanimously to support Kaminsky’s recommendation that no action be taken on the complaint. (Like Holden, Democratic member Greg Duckett had previously left -- in his case to catch a flight at the airport.) Whereupon Sullivan made his statement strongly implying the commission’s abdication of legal and moral responsibility -- a charge he made explicit when asked about it in a separate later interview. “A little strong,” was Styles’ reaction to the accusation. Whether directly prompted by the incident or not, Kaminsky entertained a small group after the meeting with a story that went this way: One man brought another into a Texas courtroom and demanded that the accused be punished for stealing two chickens. “’Hang him!’” said the judge, who was told by a shocked bailiff, “’Your honor! You can’t do that!’” Kaminsky hastened to the punchline: “’I can’t?’ said the judge. ‘Well, I’ll let him go then. I can do that!’” A disappointed Sullivan indicated afterward the complaint would probably not be pressed through court channels.

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