County officials agree not to display campaign material

Sharna Johnson

Curry County has agreed not to display campaign material in the courthouse during early elections, according to a court settlement reached with two county citizens.

Under the agreement, the county agreed to abide by election laws.

Specifically, the county agreed it would “not allow or place video, brochures, posters or allow its employees or agents to campaign in the courthouse during early voting,” according to the agreement read by Roswell District Judge Charles Currier during a Feb. 28 hearing.

Currier’s reading of the settlement terms is contained in a court audio recording obtained this week by the Clovis News Journal.

In November, about a week before the general election, Al Lewis and J.W. Graham asked for a court injunction forcing the county to remove what it called an informational video about two bond issues. The video played continuously on a television in the courthouse lobby.

The county removed the video and other associated material prior to the election. The men continued with their case because they said they wanted a ruling for guidance in future elections.

Lewis said he is pleased with the settlement though he’s disappointed it had to go to court at all.

“We just wanted to prove a point that you just can’t do things that are against the law, (and) the reason we wanted to do this is so it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

“How much money did the county spend on these attorneys? And now they’ve wasted more money, and all they had to do was abide by the same rules that you and me have to abide by … Now that I’ve seen what happened with the county, I’m going to kind of be my own little watchdog and make sure the public knows what’s going on.”

County Attorney Steve Doerr said he still maintains the position the purpose of the video was intended to be helpful and informative for the public, not to campaign, and that the law covers campaigning in the clerk’s office, not the courthouse.

“I don’t think it violates any of the voting statutes acts,” he said.

While he said he can’t predict if the county would do the same thing again, in light of the settlement, he said, “If they approach me now (for advice on it) I’m going to tell them ‘No, you don’t do it because we’ve got this order.’”

The bond issues — aimed at increasing property and gross receipts taxes to pay for the $33 million, first phase of an estimated $90 million judicial complex — were ultimately defeated by 73-27 percent of voters.