Tempers flare at last-minute hearing about Hansen's eligibility for office
Published: August 18, 2012
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ST. CROIX - At the end of a public hearing, which was called with only two hours' notice Friday afternoon by the V.I. Election System to resolve Sen. Alicia Hansen's eligibility to run for re-election, angry shouting matches and profane arguments erupted.
Tensions reached such a level that Deputy Supervisor of Elections James Webber III called for police assistance.
By the time officers arrived, tempers had subsided and some of the antagonists - notably Hansen and St. Croix Board of Elections member Adelbert Bryan - had been separated from the doorway where they stood shouting at each other.
The public hearing was prompted by a letter from the V.I. Action Group challenging Hansen's eligibility to run for a seat in the 30th Legislature.
It ended unresolved Friday afternoon and will continue this afternoon at the V.I. Elections System Office.
Colleen Clarke, the V.I. Action Group's president, wrote the letter requesting the Joint Board of Elections to hold an expedited hearing and investigation to determine Hansen's eligibility or disqualification as a candidate in this election period.
Hansen was serving probation until May 2012, following a 2008 conviction on three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns.
The V.I. Action Group claims that the law prohibits Hansen from voting until one year after her case is discharged and that her ineligibility to vote makes her ineligible to run for office.
However, the V.I. Code was amended last year by an act restoring a convicted person's right to vote immediately upon the discharge of their case.
Also under the V.I. Code, the Joint Board of Elections does not have jurisdiction over such a matter, according to Webber.
Webber said he moved quickly to schedule the hearing because it had to take place within three days of the closing of the nominations, which was Tuesday.
Typically, the Elections System would have to provide at least 48 hours notice to the public about conducting a public hearing, but Webber said that if had he done that, it would have been in violation of the law to hold the meeting within the mandated time.
Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr. was out of the office Friday and listened via conference call.
Despite the lack of public notice, more than 30 members of the community crowded into the hearing room for the hearing.
Attorney Amelia Joseph accompanied Hansen, while attorney Yohana Manning sat with Clarke. Both sides filed objections to the hearing saying that they were given only about two hours notice to appear.
Not much was completed during the hearing as Manning arrived late and was allowed only to consult with Clarke and could not make any actual motions or statements on the official record.
Not knowing how the hearing process would work, Clarke was not prepared to present witnesses or documents to substantiate her case.
Hearing officer Zandra Petersen, who is also the executive director of the V.I. Public Employee Relations Board, conducted the proceedings and denied a request by Clarke for a five-minute recess to consult with her attorney to better prepare.
The hearing, which lasted just more than an hour, included the introduction of a few pieces of evidence, including Clarke's letter to the board, the District Court indictment against Hansen and a St. Croix Board of Elections document showing that the board voted last year that Hansen was eligible to vote and sit in office.
Clarke questioned the Joint Board of Elections position being consistent with the case law and an advisement from V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer pertaining to Hansen's eligibility.
Clarke referenced local law that says anyone convicted of a crime shall be barred from voting for a period of one year following the date of their discharge.
However, the V.I. Code was amended in 2011 by Act 7262, which was sponsored by Sen. Usie Richards and co-sponsored by Senators Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Sammuel Sanes and Terrence Nelson, and allows a convicted person's right to vote to be restored automatically upon the completion of their probation or payment of restitution and any other penalties.
The issue of Hansen's eligibility to run for public office was first raised last October by Michael Springer, an unsuccessful senatorial candidate in 2010. Springer, who also is running for a Senate seat in this election, claimed that Hansen was unqualified to run for office when elected in 2010 because she was on probation after her 2008 conviction, which made her ineligible to vote and, therefore, ineligible to run for office under V.I. Code.
The V.I. Code, however, refers only to those convicted of felonies and crimes of moral turpitude.
Because the issue has to be resolved before the casting of lots scheduled for Tuesday, the parties have agreed to reconvene the hearing at 3 p.m. today.
Once both parties have exhausted their evidence and documents, a determination will be made by Abramson and Webber.
Once the hearing adjourned Friday evening, tensions rose in the office lobby, causing Webber to call for police assistance.
An initial exchange of words occurred between one of Hansen's supporters and a V.I. Action Group member after Hansen's supporter said that the Action Group had been hanging around secretly recording their conversations.
Before that confrontation was over, Bryan began to leave the office. As he walked through where Hansen and her supporter had been huddled in front of the doorway, he and another man bumped shoulders and a heated argument erupted.
Bryan accused the man of sticking out his shoulders and causing the fracas, and Hansen accused Bryan of being an instigator and wanting others to be afraid of him.
After some back and forth between Hansen and Bryan and accusations that Bryan was fueling the actions against Hansen, the parties were separated. Hansen was taken into a back room, and Bryan was led outside.
A V.I. Police patrol unit, who said they had been dispatched to the location, showed up five minutes after the fracas was quelled. The incident is listed on the police blotter as a disturbance of the peace by fighting.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.