6 Elections Board members file lawsuit against Adelbert Bryan, V.I. Action Group

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ST. CROIX - Six of the seven members of the St. Croix Board of Elections filed suit in V.I. Superior Court against members of the V.I. Action Group, fellow board member Adelbert Bryan and others who the board members say are trying to ruin their reputations.

In the 16-page complaint, plaintiffs Rupert Ross Jr., Lisa Harris Moorhead, Dodson James, Anita Davila, Carmen Golden and Raymond Williams charge that the defendants created a scandal and produced and published false, misleading and offensive material about them to recall them as duly elected members of the V.I. Board of Elections.

The defendants are listed as Shalima Edwards, Mary Moorhead, Bodil Simmonds, Pat Oliver, Frances McIntosh, David Benjamin, Delores Finch, Marcy Richardson, Coleen Clarke, Epiphane Joseph, Evelyn Bascombe, Lawrence Liburd, Juliet Liburd, Krista Schuldeman, Phyllis Nielsen, James Wilson, Delores Chrichlow, Marvin Forbes, Wendell Parris and Bryan. The complaint describes them as being a part of the V.I. Action Group, along with former senatorial candidate Michael Springer and St. Thomas-St. John Board of Election member Lawrence Boschulte.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking monetary and punitive damages from the defendants. The complaint cites the "defendants' defamatory per se statements concerning the plaintiffs as well as the defendants' tortuous interference with the board members' existing professional relations and professional reputations."

Earlier this month, the board passed a resolution to transfer about $8,000 from its Travel Fund into its Professional Services Fund, which already had about $4,000.

The board then authorized the use of the $12,000 in the Professional Services Fund to be used to retain the McChain Miller Nissman Legal Group to represent them in the District Court case and to pay all legal service charges, court costs and fees.

On Monday, Ross said the board members acted as individuals, using their own out-of-pocket money to hire the law firm to represent them in the Superior Court case.

The complaint outlines the professional, employment and community service history of each plaintiff and also highlights the role they believe each defendant played in the alleged scandal.

According to paragraphs 10 to 28 of the complaint, which relate to each defendant, the defendants are charged with being "instrumental in circulating the recall petitions" and that the petitions are "replete with unsubstantiated allegations of dishonesty that recklessly accuse defendants of committing unlawful acts."

The suit claims that Bryan was instrumental in initiating the recall drive targeting the plaintiffs and that he is believed to be the author of the recall petitions. He is the only member against whom no recall petition was filed, and he stated on a Virgin Islands radio program that the plaintiffs were using Board of Elections funds improperly to fund this case, according to the suit.

The complaint sets out factual background in the case that says the board members all have taken their oaths of office seriously and follow the local and federal election laws applicable to their responsibilities as election officials.

According to the complaint, the defendants individually and collectively have published false and unsubstantiated allegations against the plaintiffs with reckless disregard for the harm it caused to their professional reputations and character. The complaint contends that the defendants have engaged in a vicious campaign to discredit the plaintiffs by attacking their integrity, professional capabilities, intelligence, performance of their official duties and honesty and accusing board members of being corrupt and violating local and federal law without factual basis, no investigation and with disregard for the facts.

The complaint states that since February 2011, the defendants have been attending board meetings trying to prove that the board members lacked integrity and were unfit to hold their jobs and they were interruptive and disrespectful of the meeting process.

The defendants are accused of making malicious comments and discrediting the plaintiffs with numerous verbal outbursts and assaults while plaintiffs were in performance of their official duties, including being called incompetent, liars and thieves during the discharge of their duties.

The complaint claims that many of the defendants' allegations impute responsibilities to the individual members of the St. Croix Board of Elections that either are duties of the Supervisor of Elections, the Joint Board of Elections or of the local courts.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to enter a judgement in their favor and against the defendants for compensatory, general and special damages in an amount to be determined at trial, plus attorney fees and court costs. The plaintiffs specifically seek punitive damages against the defendants and any other relief as the court deems just and equitable.

The case was assigned to V.I. Superior Court Judge Darryl Donohue, but no hearing dates had been set as of Monday.

V.I. Action Group complaint pending

Meanwhile, the complaint filed by V.I. Action Group in District Court against the board members still is pending. The group filed a complaint contesting V.I. Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr.'s interpretation of the Revised Organic Act of 1954 regarding signature thresholds for recall petitions.

The complaint seeks injunctive relief by having District Judge Wilma Lewis clarify a section of the law that states how the threshold of the number of signatures should be met when seeking the recall of elected officials. The V.I. Action Group also wants the judge to order the Board of Elections to set a specific date for a recall election to take place.

The judge also is expected to make a ruling on more than 900 signatures to determine if they are to be counted in the overall count, after they were excluded by the Elections Office.

Lewis said that because of the statutory mandated deadline for the recall election, she wants the parties to get together and work out an expedited schedule. The next hearing in that matter is scheduled for June 1.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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