Wilkinson County hearing progresses slowly

Published 12:01 am Saturday, November 17, 2007

NATCHEZ — The continuance of the contested Wilkinson County election resumed on Friday, but to a very slow start.

Barbara Hollis testified briefly to facts dealing with the way her absentee ballot was completed.

Hollis, who was apparently scheduled to testify later in the day, was called to the stand earlier in the day due to an illness.

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Hollis was the only person to testify before the court recessed for lunch.

After lunch, lawyers and Judge Jim Persons tried to establish the usefulness of examining several containers of paper ballots.

The paper ballots, at the center of the trial, from August’s elections have been under intense scrutiny and are central to both sides of the case.

In fact Piazza said he believes that all paper ballots from the election are invalid.

Persons said that an inspection of all paper ballots is critical to the integrity of the case.

After a later recess Persons said attorneys representing both sides would be given and opportunity to inspect the ballots on Saturday.

Later in the afternoon Persons changed his mind and said that an inspection on Saturday would not help to quicken the pace of the trial and said the inspection would be determined on a later date.

Wilkinson County’s Interim Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Easter Prater then took the stand for the rest of the afternoon.

Prater is at the center of an election scandal that began with the Wilkinson County election of sheriff, circuit clerk and district supervisor.

Prater, by her own will, testified for the entire day without an attorney present.

Attorney Ben Piazza Jr. questioned Prater in an attempt to discredit both her position as chairman and thereby discredit her handling of the election.

Prater, originally vice chairman of the committee, assumed the position of chairman when the committee’s chairman died unexpectedly.

Piazza established, and Prater agreed, that nowhere in the group’s bylaws is this allowable.

Piazza was able to prove that Prater had no legitimate claim to power.

Piazza also proved that while acting as chairman Prater called several meetings of the committee in a manner that did not follow the bylaws of the committee.

Piazza, by having Prater read from the official bylaws of the committee, was able to prove that on several occasions Prater called meetings of the committee.

In several instances those same ill-called meetings suspiciously were held with none of the white committee members present.

Piazza was also able to show how the order certifying the winner of the elections was not legally filed.

Prater testified that she and two others signed an order certifying the election. Prater said that while several others witnessed the signing of the document she could not remember their names.

Piazza then told the court and Prater and that Mississippi law requires a majority of committee members to sign such and order.

Prater had no response.

After Friday’s hearing Prater said once the ballots are examined the court will be able to see the intent of the voters.

Prater also remarked on her decision to testify with no attorney present.

“That was a big boo-boo,” she said.