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Friday, July 11, 2014

Judge rules on wet/dry issue

Thursday, September 25, 2008

(Photo)
"The court is well aware that local issues on wet/dry matters are very emotional," Judge Phillip Smith said during the hearing on the matter Sept. 22. Two local men who attended the hearing proved this to be true. The men, who had a difference of opinion on the issue, attracted an audience in the hallway of the courthouse after the hearing. In a heated discussion both men stated their points firmly while the crowd witnessed the back and forth argument. Photo/Amanda Powers
Update: Judge Phillip Smith ruled the wet/dry issue will not be on the November ballot.

Judge Smith decided to accept the testimony of Document Examiner, Dawn Reed and also the testimony of Notary Public, Linda Thompson. With these testimonies, the judge ruled that 461 signatures on the petitions are invalid, making the number of signatures on the petition fall short of the requirements.

The petitions certified by the clerks office had 251 signatures over the necessary number to be placed on the ballot.

More information on Judge Smith's ruling will be in the Oct. 1 edition of the "Villager Journal."


The courtroom was divided Sept. 22 when the two sides of the wet/dry issue in Sharp County came together.

Circuit Judge Phillip Smith chose to hear the cases filed against the wet/dry petitions which would place the issue of whether voters want to allow alcohol sales in Sharp County on the November ballots. Judge Harold Irwin issued a temporary injunction after two Sharp County residents contested the petitions' validity.

Yota Shaw and her attorney David Blair, contested the petition on the grounds that it was not presented to the people in proper form. Morris Street who was represented by David Ethridge and co-council Bonnie Copeland, opposed the petition due to questionable signatures.

Blair argued to the court that the petitions stated the voters were signing for an ordinance to be passed, when in fact it has nothing to do with the county's decision.

Blair explained that an ordinance is something passed by the county that is also monitored and controlled by the county.

"The quorum won't even know the decision (if brought to a vote) until they hear it from the media," Ethridge said. If Sharp County is voted wet the county will have nothing to do with the regulations, it will all be controlled by Arkansas' Alcoholic Beverage Control board (ABC). Ethridge said the people who signed this petition were misled by the term, ordinance.

R.T. Starken, who represents Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT) a group who supports a wet Sharp County, argued Ethridge's point. Starken said while the petition may not have followed the strict compliance for the format of a petition it was very clear what the petition was for. Starken also stated that while he understands there is a compliance to be met, there is also a "very small box" to do so.

"If we issue a summons that is not done exactly the way the statute says the summons is not valid," Ethridge argued. He said this petition is not done in compliance with the statute.

Blair in agreement with Ethridge said, "The law is very clear that petitions must be very clear as to what they are voting on." He went on to say, "This petition is very, very confusing."

While the court was in recess for Judge Smith to review the case, spectators gathered outside the courtroom to discuss their opinion.

"I am speaking for myself and all the vets I have spoken to in this area, I have fought and given blood for that flag and I take offense that they tell me I can't vote," Rocky Smith said. "I feel like they are saying we aren't smart enough to know what we signed and that offends me too." Smith said he doesn't drink at home very often but it would be nice to be able to go out and visit while enjoying a drink.

Jerry Montgomery was among the crowd gathered at the courthouse during the hearing. "I am against a wet city. I moved here two and a half years ago from West Memphis, which as you know is wet, and the crime rate," Montgomery said as he shook his head. "It (Sharp County) was voted dry and it has worked all these years, if it's not broken let's not fix it."

"The court is well aware that local issues on wet/dry matters are very emotional," Judge Smith said. "Some support or oppose it because of economic issues, some typically oppose wet issues on moral bases, tourism comes into play in some issues, or in this case, which I have never heard before, environmental issues," Smith continued. "None of these things will enter into whether the petition will stand."

"The court finds that portion of the petition (stating an ordinance) is invalid," Judge Smith said. Smith then said the petition may have been misleading in stating it was an ordinance but that is nothing that can't be fixed and worded correctly on the ballot.

Judge Smith instructed the election commission to remove the language referring to an ordinance on the ballots. "I don't feel the flaws are so misleading that people cannot understand," Smith said.

Judge Smith then said because of the other cases scheduled for the day he would proceed with the case Sept. 23 at 9 a.m.

Judge Smith allowed for a relaxation of the injunction for the purpose of having the ballots printed in time for elections.

"This in no way means the injunction is lifted. I will hear more of the case tomorrow and it could take a couple of days but we will proceed until it is finished," Smith said. "If it is ruled that the injunction stands, the ballots will simply not be counted for this issue."



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