Hearing regarding elections fraud devolves into courtroom kerfuffle

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ST. THOMAS - The legal brouhaha continued between three plaintiffs and the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections in court on Friday.

Complete with eye rolling, extended staring and snickering laughter, a hearing dragged on for five hours in V.I. Superior Court to determine whether the court should hold the board in contempt.

However, when the proceedings finished Friday evening, Superior Court Judge Adam Christian was too ill to resolve the long-running dispute, saying he would issue a written order when he is able.

The plaintiffs, one of whom is a member of the board, were elated Nov. 22 when Christian imposed an injunction upon the board, requiring it to make available by Dec. 20 all of the plaintiffs' requested documents regarding the November 2012 election.

"I don't think that it should be condoned that this particular board could think it could do whatever it want," said Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, a plaintiff who also is a board member.

Diane Magras and Harriet Mercer, the other two plaintiffs, all agree with Marsh-Monsanto that the 2012 election was rigged.

Marsh-Monsanto ran for a Senate seat, while Magras and Mercer ran for seats on the Elections board. All of them were unsuccessful.

After the most recent court order, they hoped that all of the documents would be exposed. However, they maintain that the board still has not handed over all the required papers, and now is in contempt with the court's order.

The documents that fall under the court order include the vote tally sheets, the e-poll books, sign-in books, and absentee ballots, as well as various other documents having to do with the specified election.

After five hours of argument on Friday, Christian was unable to issue a ruling on the matter; He lost his voice by the hearing's end because he was sick.

However, Christian also had to interrupt the proceedings repeatedly, reminding the plaintiffs, who were representing themselves, to have a reason to raise an objection to defense statements other than simply disagreeing with them.

Christian, at the end of the hearing, could hardly be heard between his crackling voice, or lack thereof, and the noise of a rogue iguana running around in the ceiling vents.

Throughout the proceedings, the judge also had to repeatedly remind the defense attorney, Assistant Attorney General Ariel Smith-Francois, to stop interrupting the plaintiff's sole witness during the hearing.

Ultimately, Christian decided he would issue a written decision, though he did not disclose when he would issue it, only that it would be as soon as he was able.

The plaintiff's witness, Julien Warner, is a volunteer who testified that he saw employees of the Elections System tearing up documents one day when he was reviewing records as part of a citizens' audit.

He could not see what the documents were, he testified in court Friday evening. However, he also testified as to the incomplete nature of many of the records that he personally reviewed, and what he said appeared to be tampering in the form of papers being removed, other papers being glued together and writing that was erased or whited-out.

Warner also said that he did not feel that all of the documents he requested were available at all times.

"The number of the documents keeps changing," he said.

The defense's witness was Nefrediezha Barbel, who was chosen in October by the Joint Elections Board to be the St. Thomas-St. John deputy supervisor of the V.I. Elections System. Barbel was chosen to assist the plaintiffs in acquiring the documents that they requested.

Barbel testified that the documents had not all been made available because the plaintiffs had not asked specifically to see them when they visited the office. She was trying to give the plaintiffs the documents in portions, she said, because it would have been of too great a magnitude all at once.

"It's impractical," Barbel said.

The plaintiffs also took issue with a letter Barbel sent out to the plaintiffs in late December, after Dec. 20 - the date by which all documents were to have been made available.

The letter stated that the plaintiffs still could come to see the documents because the office had been closed on several occasions between the issue of the court order and Dec. 20.

It was closed in early December for "administrative purposes," which were not specified, and a training-retreat in mid-December.

Smith-Francois argued, on the other hand, that the plaintiffs showed little interest after the court order, with all three of them only having come to see the documents for a few days during the period.

Warner, the volunteer, Barbel said, was the one who seemed to express the most genuine, consistent interest.

The three plaintiffs still speculate whether all the documents that they want are even at the V.I. Elections System offices because of a possible scheme to hide them from the plaintiffs, they said.

The board was in court earlier this year with the same set of plaintiffs, along with two other unsuccessful candidates, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Lawrence Olive. Pickard-Samuel ran for delegate to Congress, and Olive ran for a Senate seat.

They had signed on to a lawsuit in Superior Court arguing that the board's practices during the 2012 election violated the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Help America Vote Act.

The suit was turned over to District Court, and in January, District Judge Raymond Finch ordered the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections, to turn over all the tally sheets.

In March, Finch then dismissed the case, ruling that the "alleged irregularities" did not rise to a constitutional level that affected the outcome of the election.

Through a separate order, Finch released jurisdiction over the records order to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the plaintiffs had filed an appeal.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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