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W.Va. judge decision expected today

August 03, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

W.Va. judge decision expected today



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Attorneys for two candidates vying for a Circuit Court judge nomination presented their final arguments at the conclusion of a hearing Thursday.

After conferring in private for 30 minutes, the Berkeley County Commissioners announced that they would issue a ruling today.

The commissioners have been adjudicating an election contest hearing held at candidate David Camilletti's request.

Camilletti gained two more votes on Gray Silver III on Thursday and now trails by 23 votes for the Democratic spot on the November ballot. Both are first-time candidates.

Camilletti knocked 16 votes from Silver's lead during the hearing - two on Monday, three on Tuesday, nine on Wednesday and two on Thursday - as the commissioners discarded ballots missing poll clerks' signatures.

Silver led by 15 votes after the May 9 primary and the margin grew to 39 when a canvass and a recount were held.

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Since the Republicans did not field a candidate for the November election, the winner of the Democratic primary will become the fourth judge in the 23rd Circuit. Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties are part of the circuit.

Camilletti and his attorney, W. Richard Staton, argued that state election laws require all ballots to have the signatures of both poll clerks to be valid.

The county commissioners agreed with that interpretation for regular ballots and discarded more than 35 votes for Silver, Camilletti and third-place candidate Patrick Henry, who is not a party to the contest hearing.

The commissioners have so far concurred with Silver's attorney, Douglas S. Rockwell, that absentee ballots missing clerks' signatures should be counted. Rockwell cited state Supreme Court of Appeals precedent for counting them.

He said in his summation that citizens who don't vote in person can't ensure that clerks sign their ballots.

The commissioners have also counted ballots challenged for other reasons - as long as the voters are registered in the county.

Staton and Rockwell made their final pleas Thursday.

Staton said that Berkeley didn't follow key requirements of election law, such as mailing in a reconciliation statement of ballots on primary night. Some of the errors should render ballots or whole precincts void, he said.

If mistakes were made, they were isolated and mostly minor, Rockwell responded. He said there is no evidence of "illegality, fraud or tampering" in the primary.

In four full days of proceedings, the litigants, their attorneys, the commissioners and commission attorney Norwood Bentley III examined and re-examined every aspect of the primary, from the ordering of election material to the security of used and unused ballots afterwards.

Commissioner John Wright on Thursday expressed indignation about the exhaustive scope and slow pace of the hearing. He said the commission was "being asked to do what 240 to 250 (workers and volunteers) do during the election."

"If I'd do what I want to do, I'd call this whole thing off," he said.

Wright's comments followed a search for four numbered unused ballots among hundreds of co-mingled unused ballots. The frustrations of Wright and others became apparent when only two of the ballots were located.

The commissioners turned down Rockwell's request to count every unused ballot for all 46 precincts, leaving that option to an appellate court to consider.

The commissioners' ruling can be appealed to Circuit Court and to the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

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