Lawsuit between two school board candidates put on hold until after election

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 10/31/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A lawsuit filed by a Clay County School Board incumbent against her opponent has been put on hold until after the upcoming Nov. 6 election.

Last week, on Oct. 23, incumbent …

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Lawsuit between two school board candidates put on hold until after election

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS - A lawsuit filed by a Clay County School Board incumbent against her opponent has been put on hold until after the upcoming Nov. 6 election.

Last week, on Oct. 23, incumbent Ashley Gilhousen, who represents District 5 on the Clay County School Board, filed a lawsuit that saw her accuse her opponent, Lynn Chafee, of failing to properly qualify as a District 5 school board seat candidate. A week later, on Oct. 30, 4th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gary Wilkinson heard the case. Wilkinson’s main concern with the case was whether pushing for a hearing date before the Nov. 6 election would even affect the election. Because of how many votes already cast, Wilkinson recommended waiting until after the election for another hearing.

“With over 30,000 votes in already, the judge said pushing the hearing date to before [the election] wouldn’t have an effect on the election,” Gilhousen said. “Because of that, [Wilkinson] recommended that we just let the election play out.”

Both Gilhousen and Chafee agreed with this recommendation. Neither Gilhousen or Chafee were present during this hearing — only their attorneys were. Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless, who is also being sued by Gilhousen in this case, was not present either, but his attorney was. It’s important to note that Chambless’ name is attached in an official capacity only.

“Defendant Chambless is the constitutional officer charged with administering elections within Clay County, Florida and is a necessary and indispensable party for the purposes of the relief sought by this action,” the lawsuit reads.

Chambless said he understood why Wilkinson recommended the course of action, or rather lack thereof, that he did.

“I think the judge’s decision was reasoned given that as I understood, his ruling was that based on the plaintiff, Gilhousen and the defendant, Chafee’s, agreement, if Chafee lost, the case would be moot,” Chambless said. “Given the judge’s calendar, he decided to let the election go as normal and should Chafee win, the case would proceed.”

While no court order was given to Chambless yesterday, the Supervisor of Elections did explain the action he likely would have taken if the court ruled in Gilhousen’s favor and ordered Chafee’s name removed from the ballot.

“The likely remedy, should the judge have decided to remove the candidate, would have been that from that moment on, we would put a notice into every vote-by-mail ballot going forward that states that the court has removed this candidate and therefore, her votes would not be tabulated and at every booth and polling location, that same message would be displayed,” Chambless said.

With over 30,000 ballots already cast, though, to what effect that remedy would have worked is unknown.

While both Gilhousen and Chafee agreed to allow the election to play out first, Gilhousen did say that regardless of the election results, there will be a hearing about this issue that she requests take place before Nov. 20, when the Clay County School Board holds a School Board Organization Meeting. During this meeting, newly-elected school board members will take their district seat for the first time.

With this initial hearing behind her, Gilhousen said her focus is on the voters.

“Well at this point, my focus is on earning the trust of the voters and pushing forward in this election,” Gilhousen said.

Following this hearing, Chafee said she was happy the election will go forth as planned.

“Yesterday’s hearing was good for the voters of Clay County because this election will go forward and voters get to choose who they want to represent them on our public school board,” Chafee said.

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