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Surkamp pleads not guilty to voting violations

May 04, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp pleaded not guilty Monday in Jefferson County Circuit Court to charges of trying to vote twice and illegally entering a public polling place during a special zoning referendum in November.

Surkamp, 60, of 64 Larkspur Drive in Shepherdstown, W.Va., is running for re-election to a second six-year term. He remained silent during his brief arraignment, speaking only through his attorney, B. Craig Manford.

Manford asked Judge David H. Sanders to allow Surkamp to remain free, pending trial, on a $1,000 personal recognizance bond. He also asked Sanders for a trial date late in the current court term.

Sanders granted the bond request and set a trial date of Sept. 28. He ordered a pretrial hearing for Sept. 20 and a status hearing in the case for Aug. 9.

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Manford and Daniel M. James, an assistant Morgan County prosecutor who was assigned to Surkamp's case as a special prosecutor, told the judge the trial could last three days.

Surkamp was indicted on the charges, both misdemeanors, by a Jefferson County grand jury last month.

According to the first count in the indictment, Surkamp, on Nov. 7, "knowingly and unlawfully" tried to vote at the Shepherdstown Fire Hall, his regular voting precinct, after having voted Oct. 19 during an early-voting period.

He was challenged by a fire hall poll worker, according to court records.

The second count of the indictment accuses Surkamp of unauthorized entry into the precinct while voters were casting ballots.

The case is being investigated by the West Virginia Secretary of State's office. Tim Leach, assistant general counsel to the secretary, is leading the investigation, Jefferson County Prosecutor Ralph Lorenzetti said.

Lorenzetti said last month that James was assigned to the case because Surkamp, as a county commissioner, votes on financial and other issues dealing with the prosecutor's office. James presented the case to the grand jury.

Surkamp declined to comment after the arraignment.

Manford also declined to comment. He handed out a press release on Surkamp's behalf that said: "Jim Surkamp has always fought for open and accountable government and he welcomes this public trial by a jury of his peers where there will be an open and full accounting of the facts."

The release said it is Surkamp's "overwhelming desire for the truth to be told and for the falsehoods against him to be exposed," and that he has always believed the investigation was politically motivated.

Surkamp is confident he will be acquitted, the release said.

Surkamp faces Democratic county commissioner opponents Paul G. Taylor and Ruth McQuade, both attorneys from Shepherdstown, in the May 11 primary.

The successful nominee will face Republican Walter Pellish, who has no GOP primary opponent, in November.

While Surkamp represents the Shepherdstown Magisterial District on the commission, the election is countywide.

In December, the 10-member Jefferson County Democratic Committee passed a resolution condemning Surkamp's actions calling them "inappropriate and harmful to the democratic process."

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