A three-day court hearing over the effort to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle wrapped up Wednesday with dueling references to famous musical productions.
Suttle attorney Vince Powers said the recall should be called off because of alleged misconduct by petition organizers, particularly by Virginia consultant Paul Jacob, who has worked on about 150 petition drives nationwide.
“He's like the ‘Music Man' who comes from town to town,” Powers said in his closing arguments. “They put their faith in the wrong person.”
But J.L. Spray, an attorney representing recall group leader Jeremy Aspen, said Suttle's legal team focused on minor issues that didn't add up to substantial misconduct.
“It's really more of a ‘Fiddler on the Roof' kind of case,” Spray said. “I'm shocked at the lack of evidence.”
Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon is expected to rule Thursday on whether Suttle's Jan. 25 recall election will be held.
The Mayor Suttle Recall Committee turned in nearly 37,600 signatures last month. Of those, Douglas County election officials certified that 28,720 came from valid Omaha voters — 2,077 more than needed to force the election.
Suttle is challenging the recall effort on two fronts. First, his lawyers have tried to prove that the petition drive would fall short if not for signatures that were improperly collected by circulators or wrongly validated by election officials.
Powers cited testimony from witnesses who said they never signed the petition, even though their names appeared on the documents, and petition circulators who didn't read required petition statements. He said he figures that 2,619 signatures should not have been counted.
In addition, Powers contended that Jacob and other petition organizers told circulators that they would be paid based on the number of signatures they collected. Since that would violate Nebraska law, Powers said, the entire recall is tainted and should be stopped.
Spray said there is no evidence that circulators were paid by the signature.
As for Suttle's other claims, Spray said there aren't enough disputed signatures to overturn the election. By Spray's calculations, fewer than 1,700 signatures are in question — and the recall group contends that nearly all of those should be considered valid.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the name of Paul Jacob was misspelled.