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Muscogee coroner appeals elections board decision to disqualify him

Coroner Bill Thrower today appealed the Muscogee elections board’s June 8 decision to disqualify him from the July 31 Democratic Primary based on his qualifying fee check bouncing.

Thrower was among the party primary candidates who paid their qualifying fees to the local Democratic Party, to which Thrower’s bounced check was written. The party then paid the Muscogee elections office all its candidates’ qualifying fees in a single check.

Because the party’s check to the elections office cleared, Thrower should not have been disqualified, argues his attorney, Rob Poydasheff.

Poydasheff says the fee candidates pay their party is not the fee referred to in the Georgia law that states: “In the event that a candidate pays his or her qualifying fee with a check that is subsequently returned for insufficient funds, the superintendent shall automatically find that such candidate has not met the qualifications for holding the office being sought.”

The elections board disqualified Thrower based on that law, with City Attorney Clifton Fay advising board members the code section’s use of “shall” left the board no choice, under the circumstances.

But the fee cited in the law and the fee paid the Democratic Party are two different fees, Poydasheff writes in the appeal filed around noon today.

The party by law keeps half of what candidates pay it and pays the other half to the elections director. The party’s check to the elections office is the one to which the law applies, not the check a candidate writes to the party, Poydasheff argues, writing:

“The payment, therefore, paid by the candidate to the political party is not ‘the qualifying fee’ referred to but a separate and distinct payment made by the candidate to the party for the party’s exclusive use. Because of the fungible nature of the payment, there can be no direct line drawn connecting the money paid in to the party with money paid by the party to the board, and this becomes more apparent with the contrast in payment amount paid to the party by the candidate, with payment made by the party to the board, i.e., only half of the payment paid to the party is in turn remitted by the party to the board to qualify the candidate.”

He adds: “There cannot be two different qualifying fees, either the qualifying fee is the fee paid to the party or the qualifying fee is the fee paid to the governing authority.” If the party keeps half the fee paid, then “it cannot be said that the fee a candidate pays the party is the qualifying fee, since a portion of that fee is retained by the party and not by the government in its entirety. The definition of the ‘qualifying fee,’ therefore, is the fee paid to the governing body, not the fee paid to the political party.”

Thrower’s appeal in Muscogee Superior Court will be assigned randomly to a judge, said Fay, who with Thomas Gristina of Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker and Ford will represent the elections board.

Because the election timeline is so tight – the elections office will start mailing out absentee ballots Monday – they hope to resolve this quickly, Fay said: “We’ll file an appropriate response as soon as possible.”

Thrower’s name remains on the ballot, but if the court upholds his disqualification, no votes for him will count. Absent a write-in campaign, his disqualification will mean primary challenger Buddy Bryan becomes coroner Jan. 1, because no Republican qualified for the November general election.

Thrower and his wife Hope said the returned check was a clerical error resulting from her mistakenly writing it on her personal account rather than from her husband’s re-election campaign fund. She wrote the $1,800 check May 25, and called the elections office May 29 when she discovered the error. The Throwers repaid the party on June 7, according to the appeal.

Muscogee Democratic Party Chairman John Van Doorn said elections workers would never have known about the bounced check had the Throwers contacted him instead of the elections office. The party had paid all its candidates’ fees and considered Thrower properly qualified to seek re-election, he said.

Poydasheff said Thrower’s appeal is expected to set a precedent because no case law on the issue exists.