Surkamp pleads guilty to count of illegally entering polling place

September 23, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Surkamp on Thursday pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of illegally entering a polling place during a Nov. 7, 2009, special election on a countywide zoning issue.

Surkamp, 60, of Larkspur Lane in Shepherdstown, W.Va., was ordered by 23rd Circuit Judge David H. Sanders to pay a $100 fine and court costs. He had faced a maximum sentence of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

According to the plea agreement, a misdemeanor count of attempting to vote twice in the same election was dropped.

The plea bargain was offered by Daniel James, an assistant prosecutor in Morgan County, W.Va. James said he was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case by the Prosecuting Attorneys Institute in Charleston, W.Va.

Local prosecutors have said they feared a conflict of interest since they and Surkamp are on the Jefferson County payroll.

The case drew such heavy media attention that Surkamp's trial, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday and run for three days, required a jury pool of between 75 and 80 members, said B. Craig Manford, Surkamp's lawyer.


The plea bargain was approved by the West Virginia Secretary of State's Office, which investigated the case.

Part of the deal required Surkamp to write a letter to the Secretary of State's office explaining his actions on that election day.

In the letter, Surkamp apologized for his "gaffe" in trying to vote twice, saying he had forgotten that he already had cast his ballot on Oct. 19 during the early voting period. He said he was tired, had been campaigning hard for re-election, had been up late the night before at a campaign event and was the first voter to arrive at Precinct 35-A in Shepherdstown, his normal voting place, on the morning of the election.

Surkamp, in admitting guilt for violating the law banning "unauthorized presence in an election room," as the statute reads, said he since has learned that he had no oversight duty as a county commissioner to enter the precinct. He said in his letter that he wanted to question whether one of the poll workers had been authorized to be there and that he felt it was his duty as a citizen and an elected official to raise the question.

A Jefferson County grand jury indicted Surkamp on both misdemeanor counts in April. He said at the time that the case against him was "political baloney" since the indictments came down on the first day of early voting for the May 11 Democratic primary. Surkamp lost his bid for re-election to a second six-year term in the primary.

Surkamp had no comment following Thursday's proceedings, saying only that everything he had to say he said at the hearing.

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