Defendants call elections lawsuit frivolous
Published: May 16, 2012
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ST. CROIX - Defendants in the V.I. Superior Case filed on behalf of six of the seven members of the St. Croix Board of Elections say they are ready to defend themselves against charges of defamation of character and to deny they created a scandal.
The members of the Board of Elections - Rupert Ross Jr., Lisa Harris Moorhead, Dodson James, Anita Davila, Carmen Golden and Raymond Williams - filed suit in V.I. Superior Court against members of the V.I. Action Group, fellow Board of Elections member Adelbert Bryan and others who the board members say are trying to ruin their reputations.
The defendants named in the 16-page complaint are 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 Elections member Lawrence Boschulte.
The complaint charges that the defendants created a scandal and produced and published false, misleading and offensive material about the board members in order to recall them.
The defendants said Tuesday that the lawsuit is toothless.
Yohana Manning, attorney for the V.I. Action Group, says the group believes that the lawsuit is frivolous and a political maneuver for the plaintiffs to regain public support after the defendants amassed more than 17,000 signatures supporting the recall of six of the seven board members.
V.I. Action Group's response
Mohana said the defendants plan a zealous defense and will counterclaim against the board members, sueing them in their individual capacity for acting outside of the powers granted to them by law to deprive the defendants, plus thousands of others, the right to the recall.
"Thousands of people have spoken. the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands has spoken. The supervisor of elections has spoken, and because the plaintiffs want to regain their political capital, they have filed this frivolous lawsuit, instead of setting a date for special election," he said. "It is always a scary thing when government officials sue the taxpaying public for complaining about their actions or inactions."
Manning said it is unfortunate that the plaintiffs only follow the law by court order, but if that is what it takes, the defendants are ready.
"The defendants say they are ready, willing and able to prove that their allegations are true and they will do so, line-by-line and word-by-word," he said.
Bryan said that he is not worried about the case. He said he hope the members are prepared to go all the way with the lawsuit, because he is ready with documents to support everything that he has said.
"I know all of the members of the board, I know how they behave, how they think, how they vote and how they have not been responding to certain concerns," he said. "So let's get it on."
Bryan said he is awaiting their arrival in court so that they can confirm or deny any of the statements he has made.
He said he hopes the members are ready to explain how they could use government funds to hire private counsel to defend them, which he said was against the advice of the board's attorney. "Ask them that," he said.
Boschulte, the St. Thomas-St. John board member who also is named in the lawsuit, said he has seen the complaint and believes it is shameful that elected officials would go to such lengths to avoid the matters at hand. He said he is ready to support any public comments that he has made about the board members and has no doubt that the defendants will prevail.
Boschulte said he is hopeful that the plaintiffs are ready to keep the paper trail clear as to how the public's money is being spent.
"I have worked with these individuals on the joint board and I know the history of the office," he said. "I always stick to the truth, and that is what will matter in this case."
Former Senate candidate Springer said the most disturbing element in the Board of Elections members filing the case is the fact that the real issues they should be addressing are being pushed into the background. Meanwhile, he said, the clock is ticking closer and closer to the next election.
"Concerns about the accuracy of the voting machines, the eligibility certification process and its impact on the candidacy of Sen. Alicia Hansen, and the board's continued refusal to schedule the legally required recall election are the true issues at hand," he said.
Springes said nothing is more critical in society than the people's belief that the election system is fair and unbiased.
"This battle isn't over," he said. "The people deserve an election system they can trust and nothing should stop them from exhausting every legal means to get one."
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."
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. He said that case and funding is separate from the $12,000 authorized by the board to pay for the same firm to represent them in a District Court case in which they are defendants.
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 lawsuit 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 lawsuit.
The case was assigned to V.I. Superior Court Judge Darryl Donohue, but no hearing dates have been set.
V.I. Action Group lawsuit
Meanwhile, the complaint filed by V.I. Action Group in District Court against the board members 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.
Lewis is expected to make a ruling on a number of signatures to determine if they are to be counted in the overall count, after they were excluded by the Elections Office.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com