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Georgia Supreme Court dismisses challenge to Baker County School Board member

Top Georgia court ruling allows Sharon Heard to continue serving on the School Board

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld a Superior Court ruling that dismissed a challenge to a Baker County School Board member serving on the board.

In a unanimous decision Monday, the state’s justices determined that the Superior Court judge was correct in dismissing a challenge by Nettie Lilly and Janet Anderson, who wanted Baker County School Board member Sharon Heard removed from office.

The two women, who appealed the local court’s decision to the state high court, contended that Heard did not meet residency requirements when she ran for and won the School Board post in 2012, amending the complaint to argue that Heard did not reside within the district she represented.

Heard, who offered rebuttal that she had been a resident of Baker County since early 2011, had argued that the Superior Court should dismiss the complaint because it had already been brought up by another county resident, Mendell Cowart. In that pre-election complaint, the Baker County Elections Board ruled she was eligible to run. She also moved to dismiss on the ground that the case was moot when Lilly and Anderson filed their complaint after she already was serving on the board.

The Superior Court dismissed the case on the issues and claims.

The Supreme Court found that the Elections Board acted as a court of competent jurisdiction in the case and that the appellants’ claim was the same claim Cowart had made, which was based on voter registration records that showed Heard was registered to vote in Thomas County June 2007-April 30, 2012. Cowart did not appeal the Elections Board decision.

As far as the claim that Heard was still not a resident of the School Board district she represented, the high court determined that amended claim also was based on the allegations on which the Elections Board had ruled.

“Significantly,” the court ruling stated, “appellants did not allege any change in Heard’s residency since the November 2012 election, nor have they presented any evidence in support of their claims, other than pre-election voter registration records. For these reasons, we conclude that the pre-election and post-election challenges to Heard’s right to hold office involved the same claim for res judicata purposes.”

Citing a case involving a Georgia mayor in which it had ruled that a judgment on a prior case had “preclusive effect” when the same action was later filed by another taxpayer, the Supreme Court ruling said that the Heard complaint also fell under that exception to the general rule that a judgment binds only the parties to a particular case.