Judge rules to keep Coffelt off Nov. ballot
Published: July 9, 2014
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ST. THOMAS - As the territory's election season moves into high gear, four complaints have been filed that raise questions about the eligibility of candidates or the legality of campaigning tactics.
One of the challenges, filed in District Court by gubernatorial candidate Soraya Coffelt in May, was ruled on Monday by District Judge Wilma Lewis.
Coffelt filed a lawsuit in federal court after V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes disqualified the candidate and her running mate, John Canegata, from a position on the General Election ballot in November.
Fawkes said that because Canegata is a registered Republican and Coffelt is running as a no-party candidate, the two cannot appear on the same ticket together.
According to the lawsuit, Canegata did not want to be a no-party candidate because he also is running to retain his state chairman position within the Republican Party in a race he would have had to give up if he switched political parties.
Lewis held two hearings on the matter in June. After the first, she granted a temporary restraining order in the matter while considering whether to grant a permanent injunction.
On Monday, Lewis issued an opinion that upholds Fawkes' original decision to disqualify the Coffelt/Canegata ticket.
The judge said the plain language of the law does not address whether a registered member of a political party can run as an independent candidate.
"However, the court finds that the Supervisor of Elections' conclusion that registered and enrolled party members may not run as independent candidates in the General Election is worthy of respect because of its persuasive value. The court further finds that the Supervisor of Elections' interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions does not violate either the Revised Organic Act or the United States Constitution," Lewis said.
Lewis denied Coffelt's motion for a permanent injunction, and entered a judgement in favor of the defendants.
Coffelt could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
"She will be disqualified from the November election ballot," Fawkes said Tuesday.
Fawkes noted that Canegata still is on the primary election ballot for his Republican state chairman race.
Moleto Smith Jr. complaint
Gubernatorial candidate Moleto Smith Jr. and his running mate, Hubert Frederick, wrote a letter to Fawkes on Monday questioning whether Basil Ottley Jr. - who is running for lieutenant governor on Donna Christensen's ticket - has met the residency requirements to be a political candidate.
According to the V.I. Code, to be eligible to run for the office of lieutenant governor, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a bona fide resident of the Virgin Islands and an eligible voter in the territory for the five years preceding the election.
Smith contends Ottley would have had to be living in the territory since May 2009, but he was working for the Interior Department and not living in the Virgin Islands at that time.
In his letter, Smith said Ottley was living on the mainland from 2008 and did not relocate back to the Virgin Islands until 2010.
Fawkes said she reviewed Ottley's residency records and has determined that he is eligible to run in the election. She said he continued to vote in the Virgin Islands while he was working on the mainland, and according to the Code, he meets the qualifications.
"As with any process, if they don't agree with my response to the complaint, they have the right to take it to court and use the legal process," Fawkes said Tuesday.
However, she pointed out that under the V.I. Code, any challenge to a candidate's eligibility must be made five days after the nominations petitions are filed, which was May 14. Smith and Frederick missed that deadline, Fawkes said.
Emmett Hansen II complaint
Emmett Hansen II, who is running for delegate to Congress in the Democratic primary, sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission on Monday reporting a violation of federal campaign law by one of his opponents, Stacey Plaskett.
Last Wednesday, the governor's official government website - www.governordejongh.com - was linked to the Plaskett campaign. If a user signed up for email alerts from the governor, they were directed to a page designed to collect contact information for the Plaskett campaign. That same day, an email blast was sent out with Plaskett's newsletter to many government employees.
Plaskett said it was a computer glitch, and the problem was fixed in a matter of hours, although it is unknown how long the two sites were linked.
In his letter to the federal commission, Hansen said he does not believe the linkage to be a glitch.
"I believe by the virtue of the direct linkage between the emails and the direction of traffic between the two sites that there was deliberate collusion to provide access to the Plaskett campaign to the mailing list of the Office of the Governor," Hansen said.
Hansen told The Daily News on Tuesday that he expects to receive a response from the commission by next week.
While the territory's laws are permissive when it comes to campaigning with public resources, the federal government's statues are very strict. The political position of delegate to Congress is a federal one, therefore the candidates must be held to the federal campaign regulations.
Adelbert Bryan complaint
In May, St. Croix District Board of Elections Chairman Adelbert Bryan filed twin lawsuits in federal and local court, suing Fawkes over allowing candidate and current Sen. Alicia Hansen a spot on the General Election ballot in November.
On May 14, the day after nomination petitions were filed, Bryan filed a formal complaint with the system, objecting to the nomination paper that Hansen filed.
His complaint cites the Revised Organic Act of 1954 and states that anyone who has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude is prohibited from being a member of the Legislature and that includes Hansen.
Bryan outlined Hansen's 2009 federal convictions on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file taxes, saying that those charges are crimes involving moral turpitude.
In September 2012, when questions about Hansen's eligibility arose, Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. issued an official order saying that he had considered everything and that Hansen had been validly nominated.
In his order, Abramson said his decision was based on a number of findings of facts and law. Moral turpitude is not defined in the Organic Act of 1954 as amended and is not defined in the Virgin Islands Code, he said at the time.
Bryan said in his complaint that while the convictions were not felonies, they fall under the law that requires the court to look to the criminal stature and the record of conviction and not the conduct.
According to Bryan's complaint, the hallmark of moral turpitude is a reprehensible act committed with an appreciable level of conscientious deliberation and contains an honesty component and includes conduct contrary to justice.
Fawkes said Tuesday she could not comment on pending litigation.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.