November 30, 2005

RI GOP Takes Board of Elections to Task

Marc Comtois

According to Jim Baron (he's been busy!) of the Pawtucket Times:

The Board of Elections case against Governor Carcieri and the R.I. Republican Party is a "Star Chamber" proceeding with "no rules" and "no rights" for the defendants, says a lawyer for the GOP who is calling for a dismissal of all charges.

James Bopp Jr. also alleges that the actions of board chairman Roger Begin "may have so tainted the members of the Board of Elections" that not only should he recuse himself from the case but that the board members themselves "may not be capable of acting in an impartial manner in the present matter."

Bopp told The Times that the board is "irretrievably compromised."

A hefty, 81-page memorandum outlining the partyís case, filed with the board Tuesdayasks to stay an ongoing investigation by a special prosecutor and quash or delay any subpoenas he may have issued, authorize the defendants to issue their own subpoenas and conduct other discovery proceedings and hold an immediate hearing in contemplation of a dismissal of the case. . .

Bopp, a nationally renowned attorney on campaign finance issues, alleges that the board "refused to allow the party and the governor to defend themselves" when special prosecutor H. Reed Witherby issued a report saying Carcieri and the GOP violated campaign finance laws then "they voted on it right there on whether or not we are guilty."Actually, the board voted to accept the report and held off on referring anything to attorney General Patrick Lynch. Patrick Lynch is the brother of state Democratic Chairman William Lynch, who filed the original complaint. . .

Referring to an appearance by William Lynch on WPRO-AMís Dan Yorke Show in which he said he rejected a proposed settlement of the case, Bopp said he wants to subpoena both Begin and Lynch to determine whether the Board of Elections is "taking orders" from the chairman of the Democratic Party.

Bopp said he wants to conduct depositions "to see if Lynch was lying" when he told the radio audience about the settlement. "The Democratic Party chairman says he controls the board," Bopp said. "He tells them not to pursue a settlement and they donít do it."

Bopp is also seeking the right to be present at all depositions taken by Witherby and ask questions of his own. Lynch said he was already deposed by Witherby on the day before Thanksgiving. Bopp said that is a violation of his clientsí rights because he did not have an opportunity to be present.

In the memorandum, filed by Bopp along with Richard E. Coleson representing the GOP and East Greenwich attorney Richard Fleury for Carcieri (Bopp and Coleson list a law office address in Terre Haute, Indiana) say the investigation into whether there was coordination between the Carcieri campaign and the RIGOP should be halted because the underlying violation - that the ad was "express advocacy" of Carcieri was erroneous.

Bopp maintains that at least three First Circuit Court rulings establish that for an ad to be "express advocacy" it must use specific so-called magic words such as "elect," "defeat," or "vote for," which the 2002 ad did not. Bopp says he knows those rulings exist because "they are cases that I litigated and that I won."

The Board of Elections, Bopp contends, is "operating illegally," because it has not adopted rules for conducting and adjudicating complaints that come before it. The defendants have no rights under the boardís rules, Bopp says, "because there are no rules.

"In my 30 years of campaign finance practice," Bopp said, "Iíve never seen a more outrageous violation of peopleís due process rights."

He says that when Witherby was asked whether attorneys for the defendants could participate in depositions, he wrote back asking under what rule they would be allowed to do that. "But there are no rules," Bopp repeated.

Lynch said Tuesday that Bopp and Coleson are "two ultra right wing lawyers for the Republican party who travel around the country entering appearances" in campaign finance cases. "That is who the Republican Party has stooped to bringing in."

Lynch said the RIGOP made the same defense to the Board of Elections three years ago: that there were no specific words expressly advocating the election or defeat of any candidate "and the board unanimously found that didnít pass the laugh test." And when they appealed to the RI Supreme Court, Lynch said, the court threw the case out and referred it back to the Board of Elections.

He called the GOP memorandum "nothing more than a further attempt to delay" a case that has already stretched more than three years.

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There needs to be an FBI investigation into the board as a whole.
These practices are very corrupt on their face.
The silence from groups like OCG and Common Cause is also very troubling.
Can it get much worse for the democratic process than having a corrupt elections board?
If OCG doesn't go after Begin with at least a filing to the ethics commission if not the US attorney then something is very wrong.
OCG where are you?

Posted by: Tim at December 1, 2005 8:37 PM