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Judge dismisses election suit over 4 senators

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A Montgomery judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the election of four powerful Democrats in the Alabama Senate.

Circuit Judge Charles Price ruled he lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit filed against election officials by former Republican appeals court judge Mark Montiel.

Montiel’s suit asked the judge to revoke the state certificate of elections for the four senators on grounds they did not file the proper campaign finance reports with the secretary of state for the Democratic primary last June.

In an order received by the attorneys during the weekend, Price sided with arguments raised by attorneys for the Democratic Party and attorney general’s staff that the four senators are already in office and only the state Senate has jurisdiction over their service.

“I hope the other side won’t waste any more taxpayers’ money or court time by appealing,” Democratic Party Attorney Joe Espy said.

Montiel said he is anxious to get the case to the Alabama Supreme Court because, “we can get fair consideration of our challenge.”

He said Price’s ruling, if it stands, would leave taxpayers no way to address whether legislators are serving properly.

The suit targets Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman; Senate Budget Committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma; and Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.

Montiel’s lawsuit stems from an eight-year-long fight between the four staunch Democratic senators and former Democratic state Sen. Gerald Dial of Lineville, who often voted with Senate Republicans.

In the Democratic primary last June, Dial was defeated by Kim Benefield, who received $270,161 worth of advertising from the Senate Majority Political Action Committee. The PAC was primarily funded by contributions from the four senators’ campaigns: $180,000 from Little; $230,000 from Sanders; $100,000 from Bedford; and $75,000 from Barron.

The four senators did not file campaign finance reports in the primary showing their contributions because they had no opposition and that had been the practice in the state. But the attorney general later issued an advisory opinion saying the reports should be filed in the future.

A separate lawsuit over a fifth state senator, Larry Means, D-Attalla, is pending before another Montgomery judge.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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