Pro-liquor group joins fight against Pigeon Forge lawsuit

8:05 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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While several Pigeon Forge restaurants continue to serve liquor by the drink to customers, a lawsuit contesting the vote that legalized it continues.

The referendum to sell liquor by the drink passed by 100 votes in November.  Shortly after, a group called Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge (CCCPG) filed a lawsuit to contest the liquor vote. The complaint was filed in Sevier County Chancery Court against the Sevier County Election Commission.  They want a new vote, claiming a ballot mix-up means some 300 people who voted on the issue don't live in Pigeon Forge.

On Friday, a pro-liquor group called Forging Ahead, made up of local business owners and residents, asked a judge to let them intervene in the lawsuit.  They said their interests were not being addressed in the suit, and wanted their voice to be heard.

The judge granted their motion, allowing them to join the court proceedings.  Attorney's for the group will be allowed to ask questions during the proceedings, but are not allowed to call additional witnesses.

"We're happy that the judge ruled to give us the opportunity to represent the some 1,200 hundred voters that voted for this, as well as our group, Forging Ahead, that campaigned for it," said Ken Maples, a Pigeon Forge businessman and member of Forging Ahead.

Forging Ahead spent around $20,000 on campaign funds to encourage people to vote yes on the referendum.

Now Maples said they too can have a seat at the table.

But the CCCPG's attorney, Lewis Howard, said he "doesn't think it will make a difference" in to their case. The judge is not allowing them to call additional witnesses.

The Sevier County Election Commission's attorney, Dennis Francis, said they do not deny that there were errors at the poll.  Francis said they are looking at the issue of whether the election is "incurably flawed" by those errors.

When asked why the election commission did not scrap the election when they discovered the errors, Francis said you could not legally do that.  "When you have an election that's been certified by the state election coordinator's office, you cannot ignore the 1,200 votes cast in favor of liquor by the drink. The law requires in an election contest to the complete the discovery process," Francis said.

In that discovery process, a deposition from poll worker, Sarah Ownby, shows she accidently allowed non-residents to vote in the election and did not allow some who were entitled to vote.

When CCCPG lawyer Lewis Howard asked "but you are certain that votes occurred that should not have occurred?"

Ownby answered, "I am a hundred percent sure of that."

"And you are certain that people that were otherwise entitled to vote were not allowed to vote; correct?"

"Yes, that's correct," Ownby said.  She also says she did not have proper training and believes the election should be voided.

The trial is set for January 10th.

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