Take ’em to court: How lawsuits have defined the mayor’s race

Lawsuits, lawsuits, everywhere. After the first full week of election qualifying ended July 24, four separate legal challenges emerged against mayoral hopefuls and Metro Council candidates.

Mayoral candidates Matt Watson and Tara Wicker each faced a lawsuit—Watson for allegedly failing to file campaign finance reports and Wicker for allegedly not filing her state income tax return.

The lawsuit against Watson was withdrawn before a hearing even took place, after the state ethics administration said he was in good standing.

While a judge initially tossed out the lawsuit against Wicker in early August, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a week later that she was ineligible because she failed to file two years of state tax returns. As of press time, she was planning to appeal.

A third lawsuit sought to disqualify LaMont Cole from running again for his District 7 seat, claiming he no longer lived there. A judge dismissed the suit a few days later.

And the fourth lawsuit aimed to throw out five of the eight candidates running for Wicker’s vacant District 10 seat, alleging residency issues for some and tax concerns for others. A judge cleared Quentin Anthony Anderson, Eugene Collins, Markeda Cottnaham and Jay Gaudet, but disqualified William Chatman Sr., for not registering within the district or filing state income tax returns in a timely manner.

Both Watson and Wicker claimed opponents were behind the legal challenges. A consultant of Jordan Piazza had filed the lawsuit against Watson, while Wicker suspected the plaintiffs in the suit against her were connected to Mayor Sharon Weston Broome. Both Piazza’s and Broome’s campaigns denied involvement.

But the number of lawsuits this election cycle has raised eyebrows.

“It has become a trend in the last few years to file lawsuits like these in political campaigns,” political pollster Bernie Pinsonat told Daily Report. “Consultants start looking at everything from potential legal problems to tax filings to where a candidate lives to how many times they missed voting.”

Pinsonat says it can create doubts about candidates among voters. But on the flip side, it can also generate plenty of free publicity.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of 225 magazine.