Tennessee State Senator Ophelia Ford appeared in a Memphis federal court today fighting to keep her senate seat. And, though only three senators were subpoenaed to testify, more than half the state senate showed up for the hearing.

Federal District Judge Bernice Donald said she would issue a final ruling in the in the long-contested election by Wednesday of next week. Until then, the Senate cannot void Sen. Ford’s election. Ford contends voiding the election would violate the equal protection and due process rights of Ford and several voters in the district, as well as the federal Voting Rights Act.
Tennessee State Senators were sscheduled to debating an ethics bill on Wednesday, but all 17 senatos who voted to void the election went to support their colleagues in Memphis. 16 Republicans and one Democrat went the federal courthouse in Memphis. Tennessee State Senators, Mark Norris, Curtis Person and Don McLeary were subpoenaed to appear in court, and ordered to attend. All the others came voluntarily. All of them voted to void the election of Sen. Ford, according to Nashville’s NewsChannel 5.

Ford sued the entire Memphis State Senate after they voted to void her special election victory. Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summer told the Court that the Senate had not even taken final action to void Ford’s election. Saying, therefore it is wrong for the court to intervene.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey said this morning before the hearing that he’ll push for the second vote to throw out the election unless the court extends its restraining order.


Ford won a special election last Sept. 15 over Republican Terry Roland by 13 votes. The Senate committee investigating the election irregularities in the race confirmed yesterday that nine illegal votes were cast in the election. The committee was appointed Sept. 23 after Roland contested the election. Ford was running to replace her brother, former Sen. John Ford, who resigned.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports that the committee went through a series of unanimous votes, on motions by Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, declaring the nine votes as illegal. Then Senate Republican Leader Ron Ramsey of Blountville moved to throw out all 31 votes in a North Memphis precinct that Ford carried 30-1 because a poll worker there was in New York on election day and her sister signed the missing worker’s name on documents certifying the precinct’s results.

When Democrats raised concerns about continuing to vote in light of Donald’s restraining order, the panel recessed until sometime after today’s hearing.

Earlier in Tuesday’s committee hearing, state Election Coordinator Brook Thompson said an analysis of Social Security numbers of people who voted Sept. 15 found no more instances of fraudulent voting using the identities of dead people, beyond the two already confirmed.

Ford, who was elected to represent a  70-percent-black district–and most voters under challenge are black–had claimed that the effort to remove her was racially motivated. She later said that comment was “a little bit harsh.”

The Associated Press has called Ford’s brother, whom she sought to succeed, ‘Tennessee’s Most Scandalous Senator.”

Over thirty years in the state senate, Ford lost paternity lawsuits, was alleged to gave given a political job to a girlfriend, and was sucessfully sued for sexual harassment. And, in 2004 he testified at a child support hearing that he maintained two households, one with a pregnant ex-wife and their three children, and another with a longtime girlfriend and their two children,  in addition to another young child he has with a third woman.

During that hearing, the release of Ford’s tax returns showed he received more than $230,000 from a consulting company with financial ties to TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. This led to a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and an examination by a federal grand jury.

In 1974,  Ford’s family made its entry into public office.  John Ford’s brother Harold Ford beat a white incumbent to become Tennessee’s first black congressman while brother John Ford to the state Senate and brother Emmett Ford to the Tennessee House. Harold Ford kept his congressional seat for 22 years, and when he retired in 1996, he turned it over to his son, Harold Ford Jr., who is now considering a run for the U.S. Senate. Harold Ford, Jr., is the nephew of John Ford and Ophelia Ford.

The former Sen. Ford was arrested last May along with three other current and a former state lawmakera following a two-year FBI investigation, ‘Operation Tennessee Waltz.‘  The lawmakers were charged with taking payoffs to influence legislation. Ford was ultimately indicted and is scheduled for trial this year.

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