Court rejects appeal from unsuccessful judicial candidate
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed an appeal by an unsuccessful judicial candidate, rejecting Ceola James’ claims alleging that Mississippi Court of Appeals Latrice Westbrooks had improperly aligned herself with the Democratic Party.
James, a Vicksburg resident, was elected in 2012 to fill an unexpired term and lost her re-election bid to Westbrooks in 2016. She sued, claiming Westbrooks had violated state law requiring nonpartisan judicial races by teaming up with Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and his party.
James cited a state law making it illegal for judicial candidates to “align himself with any candidate or candidates for any other office or with any political faction or political party,” saying Westbrooks had broken that rule by appearing with Thompson at a Democratic Party meeting, a Yazoo City parade, and at a fundraiser for Westbrooks where Thompson was listed as a “special guest.” James also objected to Thompson’s campaign committee endorsing Westbrooks on a “Sample Official Democratic Election Ballot.”
Chief Justice Michael Randolph, in a 5-0 ruling, found James’ evidence was far short of the standard for ordering the new election she sought. Four justices recused themselves.
While it’s illegal for judges to seek endorsement by political parties, a previous federal court decision has found parties can’t be prohibited from endorsing judicial candidates on free speech grounds. Randolph found James didn’t submit evidence to back up many of her claims, that there was no proof that Westbrooks sought endorsement on the sample ballot, and that Thompson’s appearance at fundraiser didn’t prove his campaign was “aligned” with that of Westbrooks.
“James has failed to demonstrate a ‘radical departure’ from election law such that the will of the electors is ‘impossible to ascertain,’” Randolph wrote. “Indeed, James lost the election to Westbrooks by nearly twenty-two thousand votes, and, as the trial court noted, James did not identify a single illegal ballot from the election.”
The court didn’t rule on Westbrooks’ claim that the law unconstitutionally restrains judicial candidate, finding she failed to properly serve her arguments on Attorney General Jim Hood.
James lost another election for a different Court of Appeals seat in the same district in November.
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