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Georgia Supreme Court to hear appeal in Baker County School Board case

Two Baker County women contend the chair of the School Board is ineligible to hold the office

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday an appeal by two residents of Baker County whose efforts to have a member of the county’s Board of Education removed from office was denied last year in Superior Court.

According to a news release from the Georgia high court, two voters, Nettie Lilly and Janet Anderson, are appealing the denial of their complaint seeking to have Baker County School Board member Sharon Heard kicked off the board.

A synopsis of the case from the Supreme Court says that Heard’s qualification to run for the office in 2012 was initially challenged by Baker County voter Mendell Cowart, who contended Heard was not a resident of the county and was not a registered voter for the 12 months before the election.

The county Board of Elections determined Heard was qualified to run for the office, finding that she was a resident of the county for the 12 months in question as required under the Georgia Code, was a registered voter in the county and that there was no requirement that she had to be registered to vote for the full 12-month period of residency. Cowart did not appeal the board’s decision to Baker County Superior Court and on Nov. 6, Heard was elected to the board and named its chair.

Lilly and Anderson filed their complaint in Superior Court last July, asking for heard’s removal from the School Board by again challenging her qualification to run for the office. Heard sought dismissal of the complaint, noting it was the same argument the Board of Elections had rejected the previous year.

At the hearing on heard’s motion to dismiss, Lilly and Anderson amended their complaint, adding a contention that Heard was not a resident of the School Board district she represents. The Superior Court judge ruled in heard’s favor, dismissing the complaint.

In the appeal, the complainants argue the Superior Court judge erred because the state code requires a candidate to be a qualified voter in the county for 12 months before running, that the petition for a writ of quo warranto was the proper way to challenge the elected official, that the complaint should not have been dismissed with the amendment filed and that there was no relation between the challenges filed by Lilly and Anderson to the one filed by Cowart.

Heard is arguing that the trial court ruled appropriately in ruling the amended petition arose from the same facts and circumstances that had already been decided in June 2012 by the Elections Board, that the case has unique facts that make a petition for writ of quo warranto the wrong vehicle for the challenge because it cannot be used to rehash arguments that have been adjudicated, that the amended petition did not add a new claim, and that the Superior Court judge was right in finding a connection between Lilly and Anderson, and Cowart.

“An elected official should simply not be forced to repeatedly defend against the same claims alleging the same facts and same circumstances, and there should be finality…,” Heard’s attorney contends.