Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lally retains primary ballot access

Net the Truth Online Report Thursday, March 22, 2007 filed 10:45 PM (subject to updates and revision)

Lally Retains Primary Ballot Access

The name of Democrat Sean P. Lally will appear as a candidate on the May Primary election ballot for Fayette County controller as an opponent to incumbent controller Mark Roberts.

Roberts, represented in court by attorney Jason Adams, failed to show evidence to remove a sufficient number of signatures from the nomination petitions of Sean Lally by the end of the court hearing before Judge Steve Leskinen, who was assigned the case last week after Judge Solomon recused himself.

A candidate needs 250 signatures to gain a position on the Primary election ballot for the office of county controller. Lally started with well over that - 436.

In court today, proceedings began with the continued, but brief, testimony of election bureau director, Laurie Lint. Lint indicated election law had required the transfer of signatures and voter information from voter registration cards when Pennsylvania adopted a computerized system called Secure Uniform Registry of Electors (SURE). She checked the local database against printed addresses on the challenged petitions as directed last Friday.

She testified in the one instance she wasn't able to find anything under an incomplete written name, and nothing was available for that address.

Instances arose where the registration for the person named could not be found in the database. Those continued to appear to be enveloped under potential maiden names of women who retained their voter registration with it.

However, some 70 addresses which were slated to be checked for official mailings last week did not come up under questioning by Roberts' attorney, Jason Adams.

During further testimony of subpoenaed witnesses, one woman testified she apprised Sean Lally of her Greene County residency and voter registration, saying she wouldn't be of any help to him, but he said it was ok for her to sign his petition. As it turned out, her name had already been stricken as not registered in Fayette County.

Another woman testified she signed two petitions, one for Lally she recalled at the Mt. Vernon firehall bingo and another for a different candidate elsewhere. She couldn't tell if Lally was the one who presented her with the the former petition .

An expert witness from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Michele Dresbold, who holds certification as a Document Examiner, testified for over an hour.

Laurie Lint had testified the original registration cards were no longer used under the SURE system as all information is entered into the computer database and original signatures are scanned.

Dresbold worked from the original photocopy of the database signature "cards." She was asked to compare those signatures to the election nomination petitions. Additionally, she was asked to give her professional opinion about printed names, addresses, and dates contained on Lally's nomination petitions.

Some discussion focused on the requirements for the person who signs the document by their own hand must also fill out the rest of the petition as to printed name, address, municipality, and date.

Lally's attorney, Tim Andrews weighed in on the need for specificity of the complaint which was fleshed out in later discussions.

Dresbold gave her professional opinion as to "defects" noticed in the cited lines on the petitions.

She noted on a petition which contained the affadavit of circulator Sean M. Cavanagh that the Union in Uniontown on his affadavit appeared the same as the Union in the word Uniontown on successive lines 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 of petition number 8.

Dresbold would not testify to the similarity of other printing that matched on successive lines saying she couldn't say whether the matching print on two successive lines was the person who wrote on the line above or the line below, unless it was the circulator.

On another notable petition, the name of John Croftcheck was compared to three signature cards. Dresbold cited differences in ends, formation of letters, and individual letters between the three cards and the petition signature. She then noted the house number, municipality, and date were all filled in the same and authored the same on lines 64 and 65 of petition number 13.

Laurie Lint was called by Lally's attorney to testify about changes in the election code which were implemented in 2002. Lint said the one more chance voting was called fail safe voting. Lint was also asked about Provisional Ballots and testified that some of the addresses in the county database still contain PO boxes as addresses. She said in those cases, it's best to have the names and date of birth to check registration status of individuals.

Andrews spent a few minutes inquiring about Roberts approach at the bureau and specifically whether he asked for them to check the PO Boxes on Lally petitions. He asked if she went over any of those with him. Lint testified all she did was provide copies of Lally's original petitions.

Lint was asked if there are any other specific provisions in Election Law to try to ensure people have the right to vote and are not disenfranchised other than the Provisional Ballots, fail-safe voting?

Andrews elicited Mark Roberts approach to his re-election campaigns was to initiate calls to people who signed the petitions of his opponent asking what was said about him and was there any way he could sell them back on his vote.

Pressed on whether he said during the calls "are you against me?" Roberts testified absolutely not and he would say anyone who portrayed that he'd said that was "misguided," meaning "there are political forces driving some of what you heard..." Representatives who made calls on his behalf during this time were given a script to follow with leeway to use their own words but keep to the spirit of the script. Roberts description of the calls was they were to be polite.

Roberts said his pursuit of a challenge to Lally's petitions arose out of the calls when he was told people hadn't signed the petitions.

Andrews asked if Roberts recalled the woman who testified she was asked why she signed Lally's petition and does she have anything against him. Andrews said the woman was told "you better look out."

Roberts disputed that characterization of the woman's testimony, saying she testified "you should think about that."

At that point, the exchange between Andrews and Roberts prompted an interruption from Judge Steve Leskinen "to stay on point and on relevance"... this "is not a show trial."

Andrews responded saying his client was under attack yesterday.

Noting the time constraints, Judge Leskinen said there would be opportunity to prepare whether a complaint was filed falsely, a matter for criminal law down the road... only interest is in the validity of signatures - we're interested in signatures, not politics, he said.

Andrews continued for several minutes, eliciting from Roberts that he'd gotten little sleep over the last weeks, he spent daytime and night-time hours on the challenge, he didn't make any calls from the controller's office, he didn't seek immediate counsel, but over a weekend talked to former Judge Adams, an employee of Roberts, in a personal capacity. He obtained his court counsel, Jason Adams, to represent him after he'd completed a spreadsheet of names appearing on the petitions.

Andrews pointedly asked whether Roberts could identify with 100 percent certainty the reason for challenge for each of the names listed on the first sheet.

After a few minutes, Roberts indicated his lack of sleep over the course of the last weeks, but said he's spent so many hours on the project if he were given the one page to review he would suspect he could.

Asked if he was aware prior to the filing of his complaint he needed to list the name, line and reason for each challenge, Roberts testified he was aware.

Andrews said Roberts hadn't done that for a number of people and there were other people not identified at all for challenge.

Shortly after the exchange, Andrews asked if Roberts would agree that some defects could be found on everyone's petitions. Roberts agreed.

At one point, Andrews queried Roberts on the process he used while at the election bureau offices, for instance, did he sit down with Lint or other employees and go over the database registry of names and addresses. Roberts replied he was in there every day but hadn't sat down with anyone to do that.

Andrews backtracked to the testimony of Lint which concurred with that, and indicated Lint testified the database contains addresses known as post office boxes, or PO Boxes as the street address.

Timothy Mahoney had been present to testify on behalf of Lally and his knowledge of how Lally circulated some petitions as was Sean M. Cavanagh, but neither of them were called to testify to the generalities. Instead, both parties agreed to stipulate the men would testify favorably.

The proceedings continued on matters of specificity of defects per petition number, line, and reason of the defect.

Judge Leskinen ruled out striking any signatures where those three qualifiers had not been stated in Roberts' complaint. Even though Judge Leskinen noted some of the signatures looked to him, to any layman, as if they didn't match the voter registry, or looked as if they'd been penned by the same hand, or printed information looked like it was authored by the same person, he said he was bound by the law in each instance.

Judge Leskinen at approximtely 2 PM said the county's database should be updated. That issue went to situations that had arisen where married women retaining maiden names could remain on the voter registration database. He continued the county doesn't have the resources.

Thereafter the matter of a post office box address vs a potential street address known as Box 161 arose with the Judge saying he's not convinced that's a post office box and could be disallowed if it were on the complaint as to specifics.

Andrews interjected the law had been changed since 9/11 for the address reassignments. He said Lint had testified some post office box addresses remained on the registry database and had not been changed.

Judge Leskinen commented he would find a matter of fact for the record that the address did not contain a street number, but he would not strike the name as the Roberts complaint failed on the specificity of identifying petition number, line, and reason.

Jason Adams offered signature after signature for final review. Another signature was eliminated for having a PO Box which Judge Leskinen indicated was obvious it was not an authorized street address.

One signature line was stricken as being registered Libertarian.

The Judge struck out two because the writing looked the same to him, and one was registered Republican. Another was stricken as not being registered.

Those were apparently on the complaint listing.

At several points Judge Leskinen reiterated the defect was not listed, but the signature looked to him completely different than the election card. In some instances he thought the same person signed for two persons, at the same time, possibly a spouse.

He said his factual finding was that one did not sign for himself, but he is barred from striking the one name or two names due to being bound by case law.

He also said it isn't the law for these purposes that someone can sign a signature for another person unless that is so noted on voter registration and legal paperwork.

An hour-and-a-half later, going challenged item by item, by Judge Leskinen's count, Roberts showed some 171 stricken names, leaving 265 not challenged. There was further discussion by the Judge pertaining to blocks of names on petitions which appeared to be subject to "improper affadavit of circulator."

Judge Leskinen said Mr. Lally's testimony to recalling names that preceded or followed other names he didn't specifically recall "that day" and his own position that the complaint had to be specific to petition number, line, and reason would not give him leeway to strike those names.

He had struck some names where a woman named Winkler admitted to gaining the signatures out of the absence of Mr. Lally. Under questioning of Lally on those, it was admitted he wasn't present and counsel stipulated his non-presence. As well, some names had been stricken in the case of a petition passed around by Sean M. Cavanagh at the offices of American General insurance company wherein testimony from Mark Santore revealed Mr. Lally remained ouside in a car.

In another case of a block of names, the Judge said the record of Lally's testimony reflected he recalled being at O.C. Cluss and there was sufficient evidence therein to retain those names.

A strong point Judge Leskinen made during the review was the a candidate's potential to not recollect names of person's who signed in the candidate's presence on this, or that, day. Sufficient evidence would have to be provided to show the circulator/candidate was not present, for instance, if it could be shown the name at the beginning and at the ending of a petition circulated in the same location on the same day were not obtained in the presence of the circulator/candidate.

Lally's attorney, Timothy Andrews argued to put some names back on, however it appeared Judge Leskinen had stricken those using notations in red ink on the first day of testimony before Andrews raised objections as to specificity.

At that point, it is possible the earlier total given by the Judge fell slightly below 150 - but the official record in the form of a transcript won't be available for several days.

At any rate, Judge Leskinen did rule that on the specific challenges the court had not discovered enough sufficiently challenged to disqualify the candidate's name from the May Primary ballot.

Sean P. Lally's name retains access to the Democrat Party side of the Primary Ballot in Fayette County.

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