CONWAY — Judge Larry Hyman found no evidence of impropriety Wednesday and dismissed the appeal filed by mayoral candidate Retha Pierce protesting the results of the May 22 special election in Atlantic Beach.
The hearing, held in Horry County Circuit Court, lasted less than two hours and often was reduced to Hyman calling out the self-representing Pierce for not following proper procedures associated with an appeal.
At the start of the hearing, Pierce expressed confusion as to why her appeal, as well as the one filed by fellow mayoral hopeful Windy Price, weren’t being heard by the same judge.
Last week, Price’s case was heard by Judge Derham Cole, and a ruling has still not come down.
As Hyman tried to explain that the appeals were two separate cases, Pierce interrupted him several times, causing the judge to become frustrated.
“Miss [Pierce], don’t interrupt me again,” Hyman said.
The judge then instructed Pierce to go through each of her claims as to why the results of the special election should be thrown out. As in past appeals and protests, Pierce alleged voter intimidation and that the election was improper.
However, what she didn’t have was any evidence.
“There is no evidence in the record, beyond generalized allegations and complaints, going to voter fraud,” said attorney Tracey Green, who was representing the Horry County Election Commission, the body which oversaw the special election.
Hyman repeatedly told Pierce that whatever was offered into evidence at the May 25 protest hearing is what would be considered at the appeal hearing.
Eventually, Pierce began reading from her protest letter to the election commission to get it on the record. It again included allegations of voter intimidation and confusion.
“What you did was you just spent 10 minutes telling me what your opinion is,” Hyman said.
Throughout the hearing, Pierce kept coming back to the allegation of voter intimidation. She told Hyman that many town residents spoke to her about not wanting to vote because of fear of retaliation.
“You haven’t produced a single person that says, ‘I was confused.’ ‘I was intimidated,’” Hyman said.
Hyman was referencing information from the protest hearing, where no voters spoke on the record about not casting a ballot out of fear or intimidation.
Pierce has maintained that the special election was orchestrated to get the “status quo” candidate into office. That remark caused Hyman to ask wasn’t Pierce the status quo, since she was the incumbent mayor at the time of the election.
“They have been fighting me since 2007. I’m not the status quo,” Pierce said.
Both Pierce and Price allege that Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t have the right to order the May 22 election, and that Horry County didn’t have the authority to run it or the May 25 protest hearing.
Town Council member Jake Evans won the mayor’s race, defeating incumbent Pierce and fellow candidate Price. He received 84 votes, while Pierce got five and Price ended with one. Evans cannot take his seat as mayor until after Price’s appeal is decided. If Price loses her appeal, both she and Pierce could appeal their cases to the state Supreme Court.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.