Prichard City Council President Earline Martin-Harris resigned from office Wednesday morning, before the beginning of a trial to determine whether she actually lived in the city.
Last month, Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich filed a document calling for a jury trial to determine Martin-Harris’ true residence, after several citizen complaints alleged that the representative of Prichard’s second district actually lived in Daphne. A six-month investigation by Rich’s office ensued.
Martin-Harris’ Attorney, Rick Williams, said his client simply decided to give up the fight.
“It was just in her best interest,” Williams said. “You don’t want to go through a trial for something like this with the publicity. Any time you try a case like this it gets a lot of publicity and she didn’t need that.”
Martin-Harris’ resignation from the office in question closes the case, as a finding against her in court would’ve only resulted in her ouster from the seat, said Assistant District Attorney Martha Tierney. Williams said there is no fine, or any other legal penalty assigned to this type of case.
Tierney said the state was prepared for trial and had several pieces of evidence that would’ve proved Martin-Harris lived across Mobile Bay and not in Prichard.
For example, Tierney said a key piece of evidence was a mortgage and deed signed by Martin-Harris for a home in Daphne. Martin-Harris signed this document on June 29, 2012, just 10 days before filing paperwork to run for re-election in Prichard.
Tierney said she had proof Martin-Harris worked in Daphne and her children went to school in Daphne.
Tierney added that Martin-Harris did not live in a home in Prichard she claimed as a residence.
“Our investigation basically showed she didn’t live in that house and it wasn’t in her name,” Tierney said.
The house had been probated and handed down to several children of Martin-Harris’ grandmother upon her death, Tierney said.
“She claimed to be a caretaker,” Tierney said.
Williams, who said he was prepared for trial on Wednesday, said Martin-Harris has lived in that house in Prichard since 1992.
“We had proof that’s where she lays her head every night,” he said.
Williams believes witness testimony would’ve laid out a “pretty strong” case that Martin-Harris lived in Prichard.
Since the resignation came with more than a year left on her term, the city will have to hold a special election to fill the seat, said Prichard Mayor Troy Ephriam. He said the city must hold the election between 45 and 180 days from Wednesday, the day of the resignation.
Ephriam said the result of the resignation means the residents of District 2 — the largest district in the city geographically — will be without a representative for the time being, but he’s asking citizens to forward any problems they experience to his office in the meantime.
“We need to make sure the needs in her district continue to be met,” he said.
Ephriam said current council President Pro Temp Derrick Griffin could take over as president until the council elects new officers, which they do on a two-year cycle. If Griffin declines the responsibility, the council would then hold a vote to elect new officers, Ephriam said.