A judge this morning set a May 14 trial date for Arthur L. Sumbry Sr., the longtime Phenix City councilman charged with perjury and forgery. Sumbry, 71, is accused of notarizing an allegedly forged warranty deed and lying about it under oath during a civil case.
Assistant District Attorney Buster Landreau said he expects Sumbry's trial to last two or three days. Sumbry has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
The timing of the trial has increasingly taken on interest in local political circles as the proceedings could affect this summer's municipal election. Sumbry has announced he'll seek re-election, but a felony conviction would require the popular councilman vacate his seat.
The trial last year of Sumbry's co-defendant, Ella Mae Sanders, suggested that prosecutors could face challenges in securing convictions against Sumbry on both of the charges. Sanders, 55, was found guilty of perjury, but jurors couldn't reach a verdict on the underlying forgery charge and prosecutors later dismissed it.
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Sanders was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and sentenced to four years in prison, though she could qualify for probation if her conviction is affirmed on appeal.
The charges stem from a disputed warranty deed that Sumbry notarized, transferring a 94-year-old man's home to Sanders' son. While Sumbry has maintained the man, Ambrose Adams, signed the deed, Adams' daughter claimed the document was a forgery. A judge later declared the deed null and void, and the property was returned to Adams' estate.
At a separate hearing this morning, Judge Jacob A. Walker III of Lee County Circuit Court ordered several thousand dollars restitution to Adams' daughter, who hired an attorney and handwriting expert for the civil case. Walker was assigned the case after the local judiciary recused itself.
Walker this morning also denied a motion by Sumbry's attorneys to dismiss his indictment due to vagueness. Defense attorney Michael S. Speakman had argued the indictment didn't point to specific passages of a court transcript in which Sumbry allegedly perjured himself.
But Walker said jurors may consider Sumbry's testimony as a whole, noting it was limited to the notarization.