City attorney meets with Hattiesburg City Council to explain investigation

Governor Phil Bryant says the special election for Hattiesburg mayor will be held on or about September 24. The official date will be announced Tuesday. The election challenge trial was full of allegations about voter fraud and intimidation.

City attorney Charles Lawrence met privately on Monday with council members to explain why he ordered a criminal background check on a potential witness, Arthur Smith, in the election trial.

Councilwoman Deborah Delgado asked to keep that meeting open to the press, and the public, but that did not happen.

"My plan is to continue to do the best job I can do for the residents of the City of Hattiesburg," said City Attorney Charles Lawrence on Monday.

Lawrence explained that he singled out Smith because Smith previously approached Lawrence and asked if he could help him get past charges removed from his record.

Arthur Smith filled out his absentee ballot for Dave Ware; however, a search of the ballots did not find an Arthur Smith vote. Behind closed doors, it was revealed in a court transcript that the Hattiesburg Police Department, on orders from Lawrence, did a background check on Smith. Arthur Smith was called to testify as a witness in the Ware v. DuPree trial, but he never showed up to testify when he was subpoenaed on July 26.

"Of course, me having the knowledge of the fact that the person from another state wanted to get his record clean from another state, needed to verify whether or not the person was eligible to even vote," Lawrence said.

Since Lawrence is appointed by the mayor, the council cannot fire him. They can give him a vote of no confidence. Sources say the FBI, Attorney General's office, and the local district attorney may be looking into the situation. In fact, District Attorney Patricia Burchell issued a statement later on Monday:

"This office is committed to ensuring that all allegations of any type of criminal conduct within our community are investigated and appropriately handled."

The council may ask for other resignations and look for five new election commissioners.

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