On Monday, November 22nd, the Brooks County absentee ballot case took another twist and turn as South Georgia Circuit District Attorney Joe Mulholland has been chosen by the Attorney General’s Office in Atlanta to serve as a special prosecutor.
Along with the change of prosecutors, 12 indictments were submitted and the charges center around the unlawful possession of an absentee ballot.
The defendants in the case profess their innocence of all charges.
“As a result of their grand jury findings 12 individuals were indicted in that particular matter and we will be trying that case in a court of judicial law instead of a court of public opinion so that will be pending this next year,” said District Attorney Joe Mulholland.
Mulholland’s South Georgia district consists of five counties with five county seats which are majority African-American: Decatur (Bainbridge), Grady (Cairo) , Mitchell (Camilla), Baker (Newton) and Calhoun (Morgan). In 2008, he ran as a Democrat and won 61 percent of the vote and is up for re-election for District Attorney in 2012.
Southern Circuit District Attorney J. David Miller who pushed for an GBI investigation back in 2010 after Dixiecrats had lost local Board of Education contests in the majority-black city of Quitman.
Now, as we approach 2012, J. David Miller, who is up for re-election within a year, wants to disqualify his office from prosecuting the case.
During the spring, the Justice Department was reviewing the Brooks County case and hadn’t forwarded a response in regard to whether the federal government wanted to go forward.
Miller had written a letter to the Georgia Attorney General, Sam Olens, and expressed an interest to step away from the case.
“I felt that since Brad (Shealy) is my Chief Assistant and was removed as Chairman of the Board of Education on Jan. 1, it was prudent to recuse our office so as to avoid any allegation of a ‘political prosecution’ by our office,” said Miller in an e-mail to the Valdosta Daily Times.
When Miller decided to go after the ‘Quitman 10’ in 2010 via asking the GBI to investigate, the appearance of a political prosecution became very apparent and in the future, Miller may have to answer for his actions to the Justice Department in Washington.
Miller had referred to Brad Shealy, who was also an assistant District Attorney under J. David Miller, but Shealy had been the chairman of the Brooks County Board of Education– at the same time.
In Miller’s e-mail to the Valdosta Daily Times, he went on to say the following:
“I also told the AG’s office that since we had not been given an answer from the Feds, whoever was assigned the case might want to consider whether it was in the best interests of the people of Brooks County to go ahead and proceed with a state prosecution.”
Is the Brooks County case, an example of voter intimidation and voter suppression?
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, many southern judges and district attorneys used the legal system as a way of intimidating minorities from even registering to vote. Eventually, the federal government had to step in.
From Rosa Parks to MLK, Jr, and to the legal fight to end poll taxes, literacy tests and white primaries is a part of our history and unforunately, it appears, history is repeating itself in 2011.
With Georgia Republicans now in charge of all state offices, there is a renewed effort to target minorities in particular–under the guise of ‘voter fraud’– in order to restrict rural African-Americans the ability to express themselves at the ballot box and even running for office.
When the Peach State has a governor in Nathan Deal who voted against re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act and had questioned whether President Barack Obama is a citizen, this should raise red flags.
Quitman, Brooks County’s largest city and county seat is 67 percent African-American, but the effort to do whatever it takes by Dixiecrats to undermine the political will of the majority of the community violates the Voting Rights Act.
If a state or federal grand jury indicts a school board member, the newly-elected Republican governor, Nathan Deal has the power to appoint a panel to decide if an indicted elected official may continue to serve or should step aside until the criminal case is resolved.
Right now, the Brooks Board of Education is headed by Dr. Nancy Dennard and four of the seven members are African-American.
Dixiecrats in Brooks County had two opportunities to win seats in majority-black districts and lost.
Elizabeth Thomas beat Gary Rentz in a Board of Education at-large race in a July 2010 primary by a final result of 1551-1135.
These July 2010 primary results were certified by the Secretay of State.
However, Rentz decided to run again as a write-in candidate in a District 4 race in which he eventually lost 513-504 to Linda Troutman in November 2010 with Rentz as a write-in candidate and these results were certified by the Secretary of State.
Myra Exum was defeated by Linda Troutman in a July 2010 primary race for a District 4 seat by a tally of 321-272.
In November 2010, Exum attempted to run again a seat on the Brooks County Board of Education, but as an at-large candidate. Exum’s efforts were rebuffed by voters as she lost for a second time with Elizabeth Thomas receiving 53 percent of the vote.
Prior to the November 2010 elections, Exum and Rentz found relief through a court decision that allowed them to run as a write-in candidate.
Even though there are different positions in regard to the office of the Board of Education, there was a legal argument in regard to whether it was legal for Exum and Rentz to switch positions as write-in candidates in the pursuit of a position in the office of the Brooks Board of Education.
In essence ,were they allowed to run twice for the Brooks County Board of Education despite being defeated in a Board of Education primary?
(d) No person shall be eligible as a write-in candidate in a general or special election if such person was a candidate for nomination or election to the same office in the immediately preceding primary. (O.C.G.A.§ 21-2-133)
However, Rentz and Exum were able to convince a local judge on Oct. 25, 2010 to approve the names on the November 2010 ballot.
Judge Richard Porter ruled that Brooks County Board of Education members Rentz and Exum were in compliance with the law and would remain as write-in candidates for the Nov. 2, 2010 General Election.
Porter is a Sonny Perdue appointee, who got into office in early 2009.
Despite an expensive legal exercise by Dixiecrats to get on the ballot as write-ins in an effort to take over the majority-black Brooks County Public Schools’ Board of Education, the public spoke on two different occassions in 2010 and Elizabeth Thomas and Linda Troutman won both times with the Secretary of State certifying the results.
Dixiecrats and local Republicans may have trouble working aside African-Americans as equals to make the community better for all children —black, white and Latino— especially in a city such as Quitman which is two-thirds African-American.
And unfortunately, when rural African-Americans of all ages 18 to 90 decide to make their community better –and some were voting for the first time– is rebuffed by the ugly history of Jim Crow receiving validation from a local district attorney who alledgely wants to undermine the Voting Rights Act.
Frank Thomas, a African-American on the Brooks Board of Education spoke out in regard to the conservative opposition from Dixiecrats to the racial composition of the Board of Education in the Valdosta Daily Times.
“We are a majority, but we are a fair majority,” said Thomas. “All of us are current educators or retired educators. These are top-notch people in the community that are highly respected.”