Judge rules Central councilman can seek re-election

Updated at 4:22 p.m. — A 19th Judicial District judge ruled Tuesday that Central City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Washington can run for re-election in the April 5 primary.

The state Board of Ethics challenged Washington’s candidacy Friday because Washington signed documents during qualifying this month stating he owed no campaign finance report late fees even though documents show he owed $700.

The state Ethics Board issued a ruling in June 2012 ordering Washington to pay $700 in late fees for failing to file a timely supplemental campaign finance report by Feb. 15, 2011, and another required financial report by April 6, 2010.

State Board of Ethics attorney Jennifer Land argued Washington should be disqualified from the race for falsifying the notice of candidacy document.

Washington told District Judge Tim Kelley on Tuesday that he didn’t realize he still owed the $700 until he was called Friday by the state Board of Ethics, the same day the agency filed suit against the councilman.

Washington paid the $700 on Friday after he was called by board officials earlier in the day.

Land called Friday’s phone call from the board a “courtesy call” to let Washington know the state was filing a legal challenge.

When on the stand, Washington said he didn’t realize when he signed the notice of candidacy document that he owed $700.

Washington said he tried to fax the reports in question to the agency in 2010, but his fax wasn’t working.

He said he didn’t realize the fax wasn’t working until state officials told him they didn’t get the reports and there were late fees added.

He said he went to the agency in 2012 to ask for a waiver of the late fees and that a Board of Ethics employee told him officials would look into that possibility and get back with him.

Washington said no one ever got back to him and he forgot about the matter until the call he got Friday.

In court, Land produced a certified July 2013 letter from the Board of Ethics to Washington that the council member apparently signed notifying him of the $700 in late fees.

Washington said he didn’t remember the letter and that it was possible someone else in his home signed for the letter.

Kelley said Washington did everything he was supposed to do.

“How do you penalize someone for trying to do the right thing,” Kelley asked Land before issuing his ruling.

To find otherwise, based on the evidence presented in court Tuesday, would be a “miscarriage of justice,” Kelley said.

Washington said after the hearing that he was glad the legal matter was over.

“Justice was served and all is well now,” Washington said.

Washington’s attorney, Alex St. Amant, said Kelley’s ruling showed there was no merit to the state’s case.

“We’re not surprised (at the ruling). There was lack of due process here,” St. Amant said.

Land said she couldn’t comment on the ruling and referred questions to Board of Ethics attorney Kathleen M. Allen.

Allen didn’t return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

Washington has been on the Central City Council since the city was incorporated in 2005. He is one of three incumbents running for re-election in the April 5 primary.

Councilmen Wayne Messina and Aaron Moak also are seeking re-election.

The new candidates for City Council are June T. Dupuy, Mike Gardner, Jason Ellis, Shane Evans, Kim Fralick, Eric Frank, Harry Rauls and John Vance.

The council candidates run at large for the five seats on the council.

A runoff, if needed, will be held May 3.