A Fayette Circuit judge ruled Friday that incumbent Councilwoman Shevawn Akers had enough signatures and met residency requirements to run for re-election.
After a more than five-hour hearing Friday afternoon, Fayette Circuit Court Judge Thomas Clark said Akers met both requirements to remain on the Nov. 4 ballot. The lawsuit challenging Akers' candidacy was filed by her opponent, Michael Stuart. Christy Trout, one of Stuart's lawyers, said after Friday's hearing that Stuart is deciding whether to appeal Clark's ruling.
Clark said despite having more than 42 signatures struck from Akers' petition — either because the people did not live in the 2nd District; because they could not be verified as registered voters; or for other reasons — she still had more than the 100 signatures of voters in the 2nd District required to run. The petition had 151 signatures.
Akers might have stayed occasionally with her fiancé at his home outside of the 2nd District during the six months before filing for re-election, but prior rulings and the charter of the merged government do not require that someone live continuously in the district to establish residency, Clark said.
Clark also said that evidence showed that Akers had no intention of leaving the 2nd District. She has owned a home there for years, rented out that house and later bought a second home in the 2nd District.
The 2nd District, in northwest Lexington, includes such neighborhoods as Masterson Station, McConnell's Trace and Meadowthorpe.
Stuart alleged in the lawsuit that many of Akers' signatures were questionable and that Akers had moved out of the district to live with her fiancé for six months before filing for re-election. Candidates must live in the district six months before filing for election.
Testimony and records show that Akers rented her home on Cedar Mill Circle beginning last fall.
Akers said she lived with a friend on Lucille Drive, which is in the 2nd District, before eventually finding a house in her district in January.
But text messages between Akers and David Wickstrom, who runs a nonprofit for people with disabilities and is a friend of Akers, show that Akers became concerned that people no longer believed that she was living in the 2nd District.
In mid-December, after journalists began to inquire about where Akers lived, Akers sent a text to Wickstrom that read: "I am going to have to start staying at Lucille."
In the text messages, which Wickstrom verified in court, Akers also went on to say that her friend Emily Tutt, who owns the 252 Lucille Drive home, would back her up: "She will lie for me. She knows the story."
Akers, who testified twice during Friday's hearing, said she meant to say in the text that she was going to have to stay at Lucille Drive more often. Akers said she didn't want to upset conservative voters who might not like it that she was staying some nights with her boyfriend, she said.
As to why she texted Wickstrom that she was going to have to take clothes over to the home on Lucille Drive, Akers said she had belongings at her friend's house, but she was going to take more clothes.
Tutt testified that Akers was often at her home during the day and admitted that she probably spent more nights over at her fiancé's house, which is in the 4th Council District.
Kent Wicker, a lawyer for Stuart, also pointed to texts from Akers to Wickstrom that showed that Akers also parked her car in front of the home on Lucille Drive for about a week but drove her fiancé's car as he was out of town. Akers said she wasn't sure how she could prove to the media — who she says were following her — that she stayed at Lucille Drive other than to leave her car at Lucille Drive.
Questions about how Akers obtained her signatures to run for re-election were also the subject of a criminal investigation. Akers was given diversion in August on charges related to irregularities regarding signatures on her petition.
Don Todd, Akers' lawyer, told the court that Akers received the most votes in the May primary and that the entire lawsuit was politically motivated.
Stuart and Stuart's lawyers have maintained that questions regarding Akers' qualifications — particularly where she has lived — have overshadowed other issues in the race. The lawsuit was filed to determine whether Akers could run.