A letter from a lawyer representing Sassan Moghadam urges the city to plan a recall election for Ward 3 Alison Petrone, questioning the validity of an ongoing lawsuit.
Moghadam hired retired District Judge Steven Stice, an attorney who now works for the Talley, Turner, Stice & Bertram law firm.
Unite co-founders Norman Moghadam and Russell Smith moved and distributed the petitions in July to recall odd councilors and the mayor.
After the city clerk certified enough signatures to recall Petrone, the city council challenged the adequacy of the signatures in a lawsuit against the clerk in September.
Petrone’s lawyer claimed that enough signatures were invalid to reject the petition. At the same time, Unite Norman filed a motion to be heard in defense of its signature-collecting practices and total numbers.
On a second check of the signatures, the city’s lawyers confirmed eight duplicate signatures, making the total insufficient.
According to Stice’s letter, he said his client found 20 signatures that the clerk missed. Assistant Attorney Rick Knighton replied to Stice asking for the signatures and promising to re-examine.
The lawsuit is still ongoing and no further hearings have been scheduled.
Who is being sued?
Stice also wrote that Moghadam should be informed of Petrone’s lawsuit and named as the defendant for filing the recall request. Stice wrote that this failure renders the lawsuit void.
“Under the Oklahoma Statute, Title 11, Sections 15-104, Mr. Moghadam must be named as the petitioner in the lawsuit,” he wrote. “The clerk and the parties who submitted the petition will receive written notice of the protest (lawsuit).”
Assistant Attorney Rick Knighton disagreed, saying in a letter to Stice that “recall petitions originally filed with the town clerk do not” identify the parties that filed the petition. “
Knighton also argued that Unite Norman had been briefed on the lawsuit. He pointed out that it was Unite Norman, “represented in court,” who requested and received the required recall request form from the town clerk and signed it, he told The Transcript.
As previously reported by The Transcript, Moghadam, Smith, and other supporters appeared at the clerk’s office to receive the forms and submitted them to Smith and the supporters.
Stice told The Transcript Thursday that Unite Norman is not a registered organization and that it was his client who received the forms and submitted the signatures. Under city law, anyone wishing to petition – a petitioner – must be a registered community voter in order for the recall to be requested, he said.
“Our position is that Sassan is the petitioner,” said Stice. “Granted, he was working with his organization, which was developing at the time. Unite Norman with Russell (Smith) and everyone else, but to be a petitioner, our position is that it has to be a community voter and Sassan at the time he was a Ward 3 resident. He’s the one who got the petitions. “
According to court records, Petrone’s attorney questioned Unite Norman’s legal standing as an organization to intervene in the lawsuit. Her lawyer argued that it was not a legal organization, was not a registered voter and was not allowed to appear.
Unite Norman’s attorney, Glenn Coffee, responded in court documents at the time that the group is an “unincorporated association” that works “in conjunction with Local Voter Information Network, Inc.,” a 501c4 not-for-profit organization. Coffee also argued that Unite Norman had a right to be heard as two committee members from Unite Norman and Ward 3 residents – Robert Castleberry and Kendra Wesson – signed the recall petition.
Coffee also acknowledged that in its written arguments to the court, Petrone served as the petitioner of Unite Norman’s complaint about the lawsuit.
Coffee did not return a request for comment.
“Unite Norman intervened and said they were the petitioner (of the recall), but I’m not so sure,” said Stice. “You are not an individual. Sassan is the individual. We believe the law is clear that when filing a protest (lawsuit) you must name the petitioner. If you don’t name the petitioner, you’re done. So Sassan was not named and he was never served. “
In Stice’s letter, he also claimed that the existence of Petrone’s lawsuit does not mean the city can wait to schedule a recall election. He said the city charter required the council to call for an election once the petitions were approved by the case officer.
Knighton argued in his response that the charter does not specify a schedule or deadline for the council to call an election.
“There is no provision in the Norman City charter to set a date for setting a recall election within 10 days or any other period,” his letter said. “Rather, the city’s charter merely requires that the petitioner, after the city clerk has determined that the petitions have the signatures of the required number of registered voters, be submitted by the city clerk to the city council, which body under state electoral law, call a recall election. “
But Stice told The Transcript, once the city certified the signatures, that “the city will be made to set the date”.
“The word is supposed”, quoted Stice from the charter. “You have reached the numbers and the callback should be stopped. I think it will be pretty obvious what the legislative intent is supposed to be. That is the whole point of the recall petition – is that the people have spoken, the numbers reached, and the recall should be set. “
In his written response to Stice, Knighton addressed concerns with a timing for the election. With the city having to give the county’s electoral board 75 days notice before a special election, the earliest date would be May 2021, Knighton said. The dates for April are reserved to allow for runoff elections.
After Petrone has now applied for re-election and wins in February 2021, but is dismissed in May, she will be dismissed for the current term – not for the next term, which begins on July 6, 2021, he emphasized. Knighton said the charter does not allow a recalled official to be appointed to a position, but that does not mean the person cannot be elected.
“Council members are not appointed; You are elected, ”Knighton said. “So if Councilor Petrone is re-elected in February and removed in May, the recall will apply to her current term – that is, the date on which the recall takes effect until the start of the new term on July 6, 2020. The language in section Article XIII 6 would not preclude this scenario as it applies to appointments. “
In fact, if Petrone is recalled, she would vacate the seat for about 50 days before her next term begins, Knighton said.
“There are a lot of things that can happen in city politics and in the budget, decisions that can be made in 50 days,” said Stice. “So when you have so many citizens with their names written on it and saying, ‘Well, it’s only been 50 days, is it worth it? ‘ Yes. My customer definitely thinks it’s worth it. “
Knighton said in his response to Stice, “We do not advise planning an election at this point.”
Petrone’s attorney Joel Wolgemuth said his client was waiting for her day in court.
“The position of Councilor Petrone is that the recall request case is in the hands of the court,” he said in a prepared statement. “We believe that the case should follow the trials and procedures of the court rather than bypassing the judicial system and making false claims.