Baker to stay on ballot

Published 10:30 pm Monday, October 6, 2008

Candidate Jeffrey Baker’s name will remain on the ballot in the upcoming District 5 election, even though a judge offered no ruling Monday in a hearing to determine Baker’s eligibility.

After a morning of testimony, Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley said he would take the case under advisement, but indicated that no trial would be held before the Nov. 4 general election.

Pike County Commissioner Charlie Harris, the Democratic incumbent, had filed the lawsuit claiming that Baker, who qualified this summer to run as an independent against Harris, is not a legal resident of District 5.

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“I believe today my lawyer put on a good showing and proved my opponent does not live in that district,” Harris said.

Baker said with more witnesses, he may have had a better case, but he is not giving up the fight.

“I thought I had a residency established, and if I had witnesses, which I could not afford at the time, I might have stood a better chance,” Baker said. “We’ll get past the election, let the people decide, and then go from there.”

Assistant Attorney General Winfield Sinclair, who represented Probate Judge Bill Stone and Secretary of State Beth Chapman, testified that ballots would not be reprinted if Baker were ruled to live in another district, but any votes cast for Baker would not be counted if he is ruled ineligible.

However, if no ruling is issued before the Nov. 4 election, votes can still be cast for Baker, and the case would go to trial after that date if he wins.

During the hearing on Monday, Baker told the court he resides at 522 Galloway Road and has lived there since Sept. 2007.

Chairman of the Pike County Board of Registrars Evelyn Morgan confirmed this residence is part of District 5.

However, Harris’s attorney Jon Folmar questioned Baker’s credibility, as no documentation was signed and the utilities for the home were not put in his name until February of this year.

Baker told the court the utility bill was left in his landlord’s name, as part of an agreement between the two, and he had been paying the bill in cash since September 2007. “The agreement was to keep it like it was because it cost money to change it to my name,” Baker said.

Baker did not have receipts or any proof of payment to show the court. “I don’t even have receipts for my bills this month,” Baker said.

Folmar also said Baker did not receive mail at his Galloway Road residence or change his voter registration address until February 2008.

Baker’s address where he was last registered to vote was 618 Hanchey St., but he said he since has lived in a few different locations before establishing residency on Galloway Road. Baker also said he received some of his mail at his wife’s residence at 1357 County Road 3348.

“My wife and I have had some marital differences and have obtained different residences at times since 2004,” Baker said. “She maintains a residence, and I maintain a residence, and right now we’re in the process of her establishing a residence with me at 522 Galloway Road.”

Baker said he had no need to change his voting location until February because he did not need to vote until the presidential primary.

Harris also testified he has seen Baker at the County Road 3348 residence, which is not in District 5, at least 10 times since January 2008, and that he has not seen Baker at Galloway Road anytime he has passed the residence.

Baker, who represented himself in the case, challenged Harris’ claim. “You say you never saw me at 522 Galloway Road, but I wave at you every time you come by, and you’ve never seen that?” Baker asked.

Testimony from Richard Lampley, who lives near Baker’s wife on County Road 3348, said he has seen Baker there often, and that he has not seen Baker moving furniture or belongings out of the home.

“I see him in and out every day,” Reynolds said.

Baker, and his wife, Willa Baker, testified that he still visits the home frequently and helps maintain the home, including performing work such as cutting the grass, which could give the appearance he lives there.

In other testimony, Pike County’s Democrat Party Chair Jerry Williams said Baker had first attempted to qualify as a candidate and, during that process, his residency was questioned.

Williams testified that Baker had attempted to qualify as a Democrat on the first day of qualifying this year. Williams testified that when asked if he resided within District 5, Baker first said he lived at 618 Hanchey St.

Williams testified that he told Baker that he knew that residence was condemned, and then Baker cited a rental property on Galloway Road. Williams testified that Baker was unresponsive when he asked how long he had lived there, if he had utilities in his name and if he received his mail there saying, “I’m currently remodeling and renting.”

Williams said he told Baker there could be some contest of his residency if he had chosen to qualify.

Baker disagreed with Williams’ recollection of the conversation and said he did meet the residency requirements.

In his closing arguments, Folmar said the evidence presented to the court shows Baker hasn’t lived in the district.

“I think we put forth substantial evidence that Mr. Baker was not a resident of Galloway Road prior to February 2008, which would disqualify him,” Folmar said.