The six year legal battle by former administrator of elections Lisa Peterson against the DeKalb County Election Commission is over.
After losing on the trial court level and in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, plaintiff attorneys had indicated an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would be coming. But none did, according to Nashville Attorney John Harris, III who represented the DeKalb County Election Commission in the case. "They started that process (appeal to U.S. Supreme Court) but then did not complete it, which resulted in the judgment in favor of DeKalb County becoming final this year. So the case is over," said Harris in a statement to WJLE Tuesday.
In January, a three judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's dismissal of a lawsuit on the trial court level against the DeKalb County Election Commission and several others in Tennessee brought in 2009 by former administrators of elections who claim they did not get to keep their jobs for political reasons.
"This opinion from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the federal trial court's initial decision that a Tennessee Administrator of Elections at the county election commission level is a position that can be terminated or even hired based upon political party affiliation. The significance of that is it means that if the plaintiffs in the case were correct in alleging that in 2009 they were terminated or not rehired because of their affiliation with the Democratic party, the 6th Circuit and the federal court hearing the case have now said that's okay because the positions (administrators of elections) are political enough in nature that it is reasonable for the election commissions to consider party affiliation in making their employment decisions," said Harris following that opinion.
Former DeKalb County Election Administrator Peterson and other former administrators filed the lawsuit in July 2009 against the defendant county election commissions, claiming that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when they were removed from their jobs because of their actual, or perceived, political party association. The former administrators asked the court to order their reinstatement, or in the alternative, order that they receive front pay for a reasonable amount of time. They wanted full back pay and a judgment for compensatory damages and punitive damages and an award for reasonable attorneys fees. Locally, the lawsuit named as defendants the three Republicans on the DeKalb County Election Commission James Dean, Walteen Parker, and Barbara Vanatta.
In February 2014, U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp dismissed the case in favor of the election commissioners. The plaintiffs then appealed the case to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals as to whether the federal court's ruling that the position of administrator of elections is a job under Tennessee law that has sufficient political significance that the individuals holding that position can be selected or deselected or fired based upon their party affiliation.
According to Harris, the case is also over for all the other counties involved in the lawsuit."That is all of the counties that were still involved in the case. I think there were maybe eight or nine counties still covered by the Peterson case and then there was a parallel lawsuit filed separately against Clay County and it was dismissed in favor of Clay County just last week," he said.