State told to pay legal fees in Ford ouster
Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:16 pm
MEMPHIS (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the state to pay $117,000 in attorneys fees to state Sen. Ophelia Ford after she filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the Senate from voiding her win in a 2005 special election.
The Senate nullified ballot results that sent Ford to Nashville to replace her brother, John Ford, who resigned after 30 years in the Legislature after being indicted on federal corruption charges. The Memphis Democrat sued the Tennessee Senate and Lt. Gov. John Wilder, but the case was dismissed after voters in her district sent her back to the Senate last November in the regular election.
In an order reported by The Commercial Appeal on Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald said Ford was the prevailing party because Donald had issued a declaratory judgment against the Senate warning they could not throw out disputed votes without following established, statewide rules for challenging the eligibility of voters.
Critics scoffed at the ruling.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that taxpayers are forced to pay her legal fees when she lost the court case,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.
Questions arose over her 13-vote margin in her victory in 2005 after reports emerged of voting irregularities, including ballots cast by people under the name of dead voters. Her opponent, Republican candidate Terry Roland, asked the Senate to void the election.
The Senate ultimately decided there were enough illegal votes to void the election.
“All the judge said was, we have to follow constitutional guidelines in a hearing in order to remove her,” Ramsey said. “The amount seems out of line to me.”
Ford’s chief lawyer in the case, David Cocke of the Bogatin firm, lauded the decision.
“We thought the judge’s opinion was very well-stated and analyzed, and we’re hopeful this will bring an end to the matter,” Cocke said.
The state attorney general’s office declined to comment on whether it would appeal.
John Ford is serving a 5 1/2-year federal sentence on the corruption charges and was sentenced in September to an additional 14 years in prison on separate federal charges of wire fraud and failing to report more than $800,000 in payments from state contractors.
Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com