Bearden was sued last year by critics who say he lives in Anniston, not Weaver. Monday was the first day of a civil trial that could determine his eligibility to serve as mayor.
The roughly $500,000 farm home he built in Anniston less than a decade ago is his secondary home, Bearden said on the witness stand. The mayor said he has slept at the ranch home he purchased three decades ago on Ridge Drive in Weaver ever since Weaver City Councilman Michael Warren sued Bearden last year.
“Prior to all this getting started I did go back and forward,” Bearden said. “We tried to do the right thing and we moved back.”
Warren’s attorney, Shawn Quinlan, produced documents dating back to 2007 in which Bearden listed his address at 6511 Weaver Road in Anniston. According to the documents, signed by Bearden, his homestead exemption and his polling place moved from Weaver to Anniston in 2007.
One by one, Quinlan handed Bearden documents that list the Anniston home as the mayor’s address. At Quinlan’s request, Bearden read portions of the documents aloud in the courtroom.
Bearden produced the documents months ago by court order. Reading from the documents before him in court, Bearden said that the address on his driver’s license, pistol permit, taxes and other documents all changed from Weaver to Anniston about five years ago.
But Bearden said it was a misunderstanding of a technical aspect of the law. He told the jury that in 2007 he mistakenly moved his homestead exemption from Weaver to Anniston, believing that he had to do so. And because he changed his homestead exemption, the mayor said he changed the address on his other documents as well.
“I didn’t know the law,” Bearden said. “There was an error there that I was not aware of.”
Legal documents, in hand, Quinlan said in court that Bearden’s account contradicted sworn statements he included in a lawsuit in 2010. In the suit, Bearden states that he moved his homestead in 2007 because he thought it would be more financially advantageous.
But that suit was filed before Bearden realized the mistake, said Bearden’s attorney, William Eugene Rutledge.
Bearden said he realized the mistake last year, after the suit was filed. That is when the mayor met with and asked officials at the Calhoun County Revenue Commissioner’s office to move his domicile back to Weaver.
Bearden also changed the address on other official records, including his driver’s license, to reflect the Weaver address as his home address.
“Having an error been brought to our attention we tried to correct the error,” Bearden said.
Rutledge, speaking on Bearden’s behalf, said that many of the documents in question were recorded before Bearden sought political office.
“I don’t see what the relevance is,” Rutledge said. “The only issue is the domicile during his term in office.”
But Quinlan countered, saying they reflected a pattern that is relevant to the case.
On a traffic ticket from 2008, Bearden’s address is listed at his Anniston home, Quinlan said in court. Reading from his own tax records at Quinlan’s request Bearden said that until 2005, his tax record listed Bearden’s address at his Weaver home.
But in 2006, about the same year his Anniston house was completed, the record changes, showing his address at 6511 Weaver Road in Anniston. Quinlan also had Bearden read from documents he filed with the Alabama Democratic Party for a 2010 bid for the Alabama House of Representatives.
In the space cleared for candidates to list their residential address, Bearden provided his Anniston address.
On the stand he said over and over again that the Anniston address was his mailing address. He said he would have put it in a space specifically designated for mailing addresses, if the form had one.
Quinlan produced another campaign form for the same race. This form, for campaign finance reports, had a space designated for a post office box. Bearden left it blank, opting instead to list his Anniston address, Quinlan said.
These political filings prompted public questions from Weaver resident Bill Harvey two years ago. Warren, the plaintiff in the case, has said that it was questions like those posed from Harvey that prompted him to pursue legal action against the mayor.
Bearden’s attorney, Rutledge, said in court that action against Bearden, a Democrat, stems from a political attempt to keep his client from being successful in his House race against Randy Wood, a Republican incumbent.
Today the court proceedings begin with Rutledge’s cross-examination of Bearden.
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.