The battle may be over but the fight has just begun.
The Arkansas Supreme Court made its ruling Oct. 16 on the wet/dry issue in Sharp County. The Supreme Court ruled against the wet/dry issue being on the November ballot. The next time this issue can be raised is the 2010 election year.
Yota Shaw and Morris Street filed against the wet/dry petitions submitted by Save Energy Reap Taxes (SERT) in separate lawsuits on Oct. 3. Judge Harold Erwin placed a temporary injunction on the issue after receiving the arguments submitted.
Circuit Judge Phillip Smith chose to take the case and the hearing began Sept. 22. During the three-day hearing, Yota Shaw's attorney, David Blair, called several witnesses to the stand to support his argument that some of the signatures on the petitions submitted were questionable.
Out of several witnesses called to the stand, there were two witnesses that impacted Judge Smith's decision. One witness was Linda Thompson, Sharp County Judge Larry Brown's secretary, who is a notary public.
Thompson testified that when Ruth Reynolds, president of SERT, brought the petitions in to her to be notarized, sometimes they were already signed. Thompson made it clear that the first few times she notarized the petitions for Reynolds they followed procedure but once she became familiar with Reynolds and her signature, Thompson said she started notarizing the petitions already signed.
Thompson said she estimated 85 percent of the petitions she notarized for Reynolds were signed previous to her affixing her seal. In Judge Smith's ruling he stated that 31 pages of signatures for Reynolds containing 285 signatures had been notarized by Thompson. Judge Smith ruled 85 percent or 222 of those signatures invalid.
The other key witness to the case was Dawn Reed, a forensic document examiner, who Blair hired to examine the petitions. Reed testified that while she could not identify any definite signatures that had been signed by the same person, common authorship, she questioned several of them. Reed explained this was not a question of forgery, no one had claimed that their signature had been forged, but simply instances like a spouse signing both her and her husband's name.
Judge Smith stated that the petitions read, "The forgoing persons signed this sheet and each of them signed his or her name thereto in my presence." Judge Smith considered this a false affidavit due to Reed's findings, ruling each petition containing a signature in question by Reed invalid, totaling 238 signatures.
Altogether, in Judge Smith's ruling, he declared 461 signatures invalid, resulting in the petitions falling short of the necessary 4,369 signatures by 210.
Due to his findings, Judge Smith ruled to remove the wet/dry issue from the November ballot Sept. 25, after the three day hearing.
SERT hired Jeremy Lowery, an attorney from Sheridan to appeal Judge Smith's decision. Lowery filed the appeal with the Supreme Court Oct. 3, arguing Thompson and Reeds' testimonies. The Supreme Court ruled to expedite the decision in time for the Nov. 4 elections.
Oct. 16 at noon, the Supreme Court released their decision to affirm Judge Smith's ruling.
"We are dishearted. However, at this point the issue is not dead," SERT member, Stu Freigy said.
Freigy who has endured the entire process of this ongoing matter said SERT would meet Oct. 17 to plan their next course of action. According to Freigy, Lowery explained that Judge Smith has set a presidence for this kind of case, making it easier to challenge petition signatures in the future.
"We are pleased with the decision," Street said. "I wouldn't have gotten into this if it wasn't something I thought was right." Street said his group would be meeting Oct. 21 to discuss legal fees.
"They (SERT) will probably get started early this time and we will too," Street said in reference to the next election.