Petition seeks removal of judicial complex video from courthouse lobby

CNJ file photo Two Clovis men filed a petition Monday asking the court to force Curry County to remove an informational video that plays continuously in the the courthouse lobby. The petition claims the video violates state law regarding campaign materials near polling places.

Two Clovis men filed a petition in district court Monday seeking to force Curry County to remove from the courthouse lobby a video about a proposed judicial complex.

In the petition for declarative judgment, attorney Eric Dixon said the taxpayer-funded video tells voters the courthouse is unsafe. He said it also warns voters that if they don’t pass a bond question to build a new courthouse on Nov. 2, all but one entrance to the courthouse will be closed and the county could face lawsuits.

Dixon said the video violates state law prohibiting campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

The petition is filed on behalf of Al Lewis and J.W. Graham, both vocal opponents, along with Dixon, to a proposed $33 million judicial complex county officials have placed before voters.

Early and absentee voting is conducted in the county clerk’s office, located south of where the video is played, along the same hallway in the courthouse.

Dixon said his clients are not seeking money and only want to see the situation addressed.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr said Monday afternoon he had not seen the petition. He declined comment. County Manager Lance Pyle did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Pyle, who has said he approved the video along with County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick, has stated the video is “informational” and not promotional.

County Clerk Connie Jo Lyman has said she researched the law regarding campaigning near polling places but does not believe her office constitutes a poll location just because early and absentee votes are accepted there.

The county has placed two bond questions on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot; one would increase property taxes to pay for construction of a $16.5 million courthouse; the other would raise gross receipts taxes .25 percent, the revenue from which officials have said would be used to build a new jail.

Though initially assigned to Clovis Judge David Reeb, Dixon said he plans to ask that a judge be brought in from outside the area to hear the case.

“I don’t think any of the Clovis judges can obviously sit in the case since they’ve all taken positions in favor of the bond issues. The (state) supreme court’s going to have to appoint somebody,” Dixon said.

If the case cannot be heard before the election, Dixon said he and his clients will evaluate the next step.

“We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get there,” he said. “Depending on which way the election goes, there’s a case that can be made that the results were tainted by the campaign that took place beside the poling place.”