Judge hears arguments in recall case
Published: June 30, 2012
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ST. CROIX - District Judge Wilma Lewis heard oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the St. Croix Board of Elections against a group of residents who launched a recall petition against most of the board members.
The V.I. Action Group, which initially sought to recall six of seven board members, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court contesting the board's interpretation of the Revised Organic Act of 1954 regarding signature thresholds for recall petitions and the board's inaction to schedule a recall election.
In April, after checking signatures, Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. accepted four of the six recall petitions as valid.
Abramson initially was named in the suit, but V.I. Action Group has since filed court papers dismissing him from the suit.
The group's complaint seeks injunctive relief by having the District Court 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 plaintiffs also want the judge to order the Board of Elections to set a date certain for the special election to be held.
On Friday, more than 50 residents, many who are members of the action group, filled the large courtroom to show their support.
Yohana Manning, who represents the group, told the court that the board failed to act within the 15-day window following the filing of the petitions in March and that the board did not make any attempts to set procedures as to how the process would run.
"They knew the petitions were being circulated, but they never acted," he said. "They just sat on their hands."
Manning said the board never took any official position, and their only statements were as individuals, because they never specifically voted on an official position.
Attorney Scott McChain, who represents the board, said he believed that the board acted responsibly and that they were not mandated to act exclusively within the 15-day window.
Additionally, he said the board took a position on the issues at hand and were not negligent in their duties.
At several stages of the hearing, Lewis said she was concerned that McChain's arguments leaned toward expectations that the court should set policy and guidelines for the board to act upon, which the court does not do.
The court heard further arguments about the plaintiffs' claims of irregularities and fraud on the part of the board members and a counterclaim on behalf of the defendants on the same claims.
Based on depositions taken during the last few weeks, McChain said he had spoken to several people who had signed the petition and said they were not fully advised of what they were signing.
Abramson has said he would follow the recommendation of V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer about how to determine the number of signatures that are needed. He maintained his view, however, that the law means that 50 percent of all votes cast for a specific office - governor, senator, V.I. Board of Elections, etc. - are required, no matter how many votes each voter could cast.
Frazer's opinion, issued in March, was that the signature threshold should be based on the number of votes cast for a specific candidate, which would result in a smaller number of signatures being required than under Abramson's interpretation.
Abramson has said that it was intentional to set the threshold at a high level in order to fend off frivolous recalls.
Despite Abramson's authority over the certification of the process, during their meeting April 4, St. Croix Elections Board members voted to reject Abramson's decision to accept the recall petitions using Frazer's signature threshold.
At this point, Abramson's acceptance of the four petitions and the recall effort against Elections Board members are moot until a decision is reached in court.
Lewis took the matter under advisement and said she expects to make a decision in short order.
In a related proceeding in V.I. Superior Court, nothing has changed in the case in which six of the seven St. Croix Elections Board members filed suit against members of V.I. Action Group, fellow board member Adelbert Bryan and others who the board members say are trying to ruin their reputations.
The board members' 16-page complaint charges 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.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking monetary and punitive damages from the defendants.
The defendants responded by calling the lawsuit frivolous.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.