Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lally present as woman signed names of relatives

Net the Truth Online report March 22, 2007 (12:48 a.m.filed and subject to revision)

A few developments almost as unsettling as the continued questionable status of the accuracy of Fayette County's voter registration list occurred during testimony by Sean P. Lally, the subject of Fayette County Controller Mark Roberts' nomination petition challenge being heard in the courtroom of Judge Steve Leskinen.

Lally has been noted as the circulator of some 14 petitions to which he signed an affadavit of circulator.

One weighty allegation involving the status of some possible 150 signatures on nomination petitions centers on the personal presence of Lally when the petitions were signed. Those appear to be enveloped into a category called "improper affadavit of circulator."

Roberts has challenged Lally petitions on several fronts, including signatures that appear on both men's petitions, names of voters registered in another party, or No Party, duplication of names on Lally petitions, non-registration status of signer, and the use of a printed rather than a cursive signature. Many of those appeared to be dispensed with last week.

In several instances, the names of women who may have retained maiden names were slated for further review, thus putting their status on hold, but apparently central to the question of Lally's presence when such individuals signed.

In at least 70 instances, mismatched addresses on petitions to names of voters on the county registry were questioned and scheduled to be checked by the Election Bureau. Testimony by election bureau director, Laurie Lint, was postponed until Thursday, the last day scheduled for the hearing. Those as well will go to the heart of Lally's presence and affadavit.

For several minutes individuals subpoenaed by Roberts filed into the courtroom to find an available seat and await a turn to testify.

As the seating filled to near capacity, Jason Adams, attorney for Mark Roberts, requested the witnesses be sequestered outside the courtroom in the hallway until called for testimony. Spanning some six hours, with a half-hour break for a short lunch period, person after person reappeared to take a seat on the witness stand.

Kathy Winkler testified about asking Annette Flora to sign the petition and said she was told she was Democrat. Flora subsequently signed three names to the petition in Winkler's presence to which Winkler asked her what she was doing and admonished that she couldn't do that. Winkler said she hadn't told anyone about the occurence and hadn't spoken to Lally about that though she did speak to him, she said.

She testified she had inadvertently signed the petitions two times. Her name was stricken in the one line.

Winkler also testified to obtaining a dozen other names.

One woman testified she had been contacted about petitions by Sean Lally. She took the petitions to the Rod and Gun Club and didn't sign as circulator, but she double-signed her own name on Lally's petitions by accident. Upon questioning by Andrews about the circumstances of her being contacted by anyone from Roberts' camp, she testified to being contacted the first time in the evening and was asked by Roberts what he had done wrong and why she signed someone else's petition.

The next morning, she said, she received another call at 9:55 a.m. and was scared by it. She said she used her cell phone to take a photograph of the phone call and the number was 430-7319.

She offered she suffered from an illness years ago, and had to make lists of everything. She knew she should have signed as circulator, but just didn't.

In turn, subpoenaed witnesses were asked by Adams whether they were registered to vote, registered as a Democrat, who was present when they signed the petitition, did they know Lally, could they recognize Lally if they did not know him and hadn't met him, and specifically was Lally present when they signed the petition. Many were directed to Lally at the front of the courtroom, and subsequently said they had not seen him at the time they signed his petition.

Lally's attorney, Tim Andrews countered with questions about whether the individual read and/or understood what they signed, did they have an objection to their valid signature appearing on the petition for Lally to gain ballot access.

Many witnesses who avowed they had signed the petition and had no objection to their names appearing on Lally's petition could not testify for certain to Lally's presence.

Locations which cropped up over and over were Vinny's Pizza Parlor, the offices of American General, a bar, at a committee party for another candidate, at a spaghetti dinner, and a bingo event.

Mark Santore's testimony placed Lally in a car outside the American General offices while signers in that location testified Sean Cavanagh brought in petitions which they signed.

The signers at Vinny's Pizza Parlor testified they did not see Sean Lally there.

A Christine Brownfield testified she signed Lally's petition which her husband gave to her. Lally was not present, she said. She passed the petition on at work at Community Action.

Later testimony revealed Mr. Brownfield employed by Lally.

One woman testified she'd been handed the petition near Value City at the Mall and as it was a cold day, there were not many people outdoors and she was certain Lally was not present.

One man testified he was at the bar at a table and Sean Lally was there, but he was handed the petition by the person seated next to him, a doctor.

One man testifying appeared set that the signature was not his, but he indicated he had signed a petition, he wasn't sure when or where, and he could not answer who asked him to sign. Lally's attorney conceded to strike his name on the basis of he appeared confused.

One woman said she had been asked to sign a petition, at school where she is employed, but she was told it was for a school board candidate. She was asked by Lally's counsel whether she understood what she signed and objected to her name being used for the candidate's ballot position. Her answers caused the attorney to concede to have her name stricken.

Another woman said she had worked at Sean Cavanagh's Vinny's, and was told "this is a democratic place." She was registered as an independent for years and was asked if she wanted to change her registristration a day before she signed the petition.

When Lally took the witness stand he was asked immediately whether he sought advice of other candidates, an attorney, anyone who ran before his bid for the controller position. At first, Andrews raised objections, but Judge Leskinen quelled debate noting a record was being created and the questions were within bounds to be asked.

Lally testified he had sought a election to a row office previously.

He indicated he'd read and reviewed the affadavit and complied with it to his knowledge of what it meant.

He believed it was accepted practice to give the petition to someone else to obtain signatures and he wasn't aware there was a case wherein it was determined you must be physically present as circulator of the petition.

Judge Leskinen interjected around this point with a question about his belief of what the affadavit contents require and Lally said no, he doesn't believe that's the case that you must be physically present.

When questioned about name after name for at least one-hour, Lally appeared frustrated. He had sat through the entirety of the testimony of dozens upon dozens of individuals. He maintained he could recall some of the names he was asked about, but couldn't be expected to remember some 436 individuals.

At one point, Lally was asked if he recalled the testimony of one woman, and he asked what was her description. Adams, Roberts attorney, couldn't oblige. He said he couldn't remember her appearance. Lally responded if you can't remember, I can't remember.

Upon pressing, Lally was able to recognize well over a couple of dozen individual names, connections of many to others he recalled appeared to jog his recollection.

During his testimony, Lally said he was present while a woman who had been identified as Paula Paull signed the name of her spouse, son, and daughter-in-law.

On Friday, in turn, without her being present, the three testified to what happened.

Robert Paull, Sr. testified he is registered to vote, but hadn't voted in a few years. He said he knew what the petition was for, he was present, but he didn't sign the petition. He gave his wife permission to sign it at her place of business.

Her son, Robert Paull, Jr. and daughter-in-law, Kim Paull, similarly testified they'd given her permission, but they themselves did not sign.

On the stand, Lally testified he thought that was accepted legal practice if someone gives permission to sign their name.

At one point, Judge Leskinen engaged the attorneys in a brief discussion of a few cases, including a Flaherty case. These were brought up after the court transcriptionist left.

Basically, one of the cases seemeds to focus on the requirement for a three-fold specificity in challenges as to petition number, line number, and reason for the line challenge.

Discussion ensued for half an hour on questions about the circulator being present when petitions were signed.

During Lally's testimony, he admitted to being registered in Fayette County, and at one point Cuyahoga County, Ohio. It wasn't clear whether the Ohio registration was inactivated by registration officials there. Lally said he did not vote there. Adams asked him about a voter registration in Allegheny County, but he couldn't recall the particulars.

As the court was about to adjourn for the evening, Judge Leskinen asked Roberts attorney how many signatures of his 318 challenged he had met so far and how many he expected to cover for challenge on the last day.

Adams responded about 135 by his count with an expected 50 more and the potential for others depending on additional testimony which included a handwriting expert.

We asked who the expert was afterwards. Michele Dresbold.

Court resumes Thursday at 9 am in Courtroom 3.

revisions 1 a.m.
revision for clarity 10 p.m. (3/22)
spelling Cuyahoga County corrected Lally testimony statement inserted(3/24)
revision cases specificity challenges 3-fold and presence of circulator (3/24)

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