Judge hears Merry's appeal against Few candidacy decision

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October 11, 2006

The board of elections decided Ronnie Few could stay in the race for Augusta mayor, but now a judge could reverse that decision.

In a hearing today, Chief Judge William Fleming heard an appeal in the residency case brought by Augusta government watchdog Woody Merry.

News 12's Jonathan Martin was in the hearing.

The hearing lasted two hours, with Judge Fleming giving each side 30 minutes to present their case.

Now the decision is in his hands.

"All candidates and elected officials are being put on notice that there are consequences for your actions," Merry told News 12.

Merry and Few sat silent, leaving the arguing to their attorneys.

Few filed for homestead exemption in Columbia County in April, and Merry's attorney told the judge for that reason he should either disqualify him from the Augusta mayor's race or force to board of elections to hold another hearing.

"The judge is going to find that there was evidence to support their decision and that he has no right to go behind them and rethink, he doesn't have that right," Few's attorney, Lourdes Coleman, told News 12.

A calm crowd sat in court, but Merry's attorney, Joe Neal, says the "hooting and booing" in the residency hearing two weeks ago intimidated the board of elections into voting in Few's favor.

Neal also claims the board of elections didn't have power to subpoena evidence that would have been critical to their case.

So now, Judge Fleming will take his time to weigh it out.

"The evidence we presented was solid," Merry said. "The evidence the opponents presented was basically hearsay."

"It's in the judge's hands, and we realize he's a very fair man and he will follow the law," Few said.

Judge Fleming tells us he expects to issue a ruling by Friday. His options include disqualifying Few, dismissing the appeal altogether, or sending the issue back to the board of elections for another hearing.

Separate from this hearing, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office is still investigating this matter.

Capt. Steve Morris says they still have to interview Few before they decide whether criminal charges are brought.

Melanie Roy, the woman who challenged Few's residency, is also named in the appeal, but she was not court today.