Judicial Watch • Major Court Victory!

Major Court Victory!

Major Court Victory!

DECEMBER 14, 2012

Major JW Victory! Judge Rules JW Election Fraud Lawsuit Can Continue

We achieved a significant legal victory this week – and it may lead to cleaner elections.  On December 10, 2011, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, denied Indiana’s motion to dismiss our historic election integrity lawsuit (Judicial Watch, et al. v. King, et al. (No. 1:12-cv-00800)). We allege that the state of Indiana failed to maintain clean voter registration lists as required by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), and now we will have our day in court. Make no mistake, this is a HUGE victory for election integrity.  True the Vote, the grassroots clean elections watchdog, is both our client and co-plaintiff in this important lawsuit.

The State ofIndianahad feebly offered the argument that Judicial Watch did not have standing to bring the lawsuit and, therefore, could not sue Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson and Indiana Election Division Directors J. Bradley Kind and Trent Deckard in their official capacity. But Judge Lawrence was having none of it, and ruled that the lawsuit can proceed in its entirety.

By way of review, this case began on February 6, 2012, when Judicial Watch notified Indiana election officials by letter that the state was in violation of the NVRA, having failed to clean its voter records to the extent that “the number of persons registered to vote exceeded the total voting population in twelve Indiana counties.”

The Judicial Watch letter also requested that the State of Indiana make available for public inspection all records concerning “the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency” of official lists of eligible voters, per Section 8 of the NVRA.

And what was the state’s reply? Indiana election officials summarily dismissed these concerns about the rolls and flatly refused to produce documents about this issue. And so, on June 11, 2012, Judicial Watch filed suit, leading to our recent court victory.

In its denial of the motion to dismiss, the District Court first ruled that the Judicial Watch and True the Vote had sufficiently fulfilled NVRA notification requirements, stating, “[T]he Court finds that the Letter satisfied the pre-suit notice requirement, inasmuch as the Letter, when read as a whole, makes it clear that Judicial Watch is asserting a violation of the NVRA and plans to initiate litigation if its concerns are not addressed in a timely fashion.”

In denying the defendants’ allegation that Judicial Watch and True the Vote did not have standing to sue, the Court ruled that Judicial Watch “has satisfied this burden by alleging that its members who are registered to vote in Indiana are injured by Indiana’s failure to comply with the NVRA list maintenance requirements.” True the Vote, the court ruled, “has suffered injuries because of the Defendants alleged failure to comply with the NVRA and therefore has standing to bring its List Maintenance Claim.”

Needless to say, this is a major victory for the people of Indiana and everyone who values the integrity of the ballot box nationwide. Indiana’s election officials who shirked their responsibility to maintain clean voter registration lists have been put on notice that their lackadaisical attitude is no longer acceptable. This victory should put other states on notice that they need to take reasonable and responsible steps to remove dead and ineligible voters from the rolls. The Obama Justice Department has been AWOL on this issue so we will stand in the gap for election integrity. Actually, it’s worse than that. (The Department of Justice has, at times, behaved more like an enemy combatant against election integrity.)

Our client, True the Vote, was also excited by this victory. Here’s a statement from the organization’s President, Catherine Engelbrecht:

This is excellent news for Americans concerned with the integrity of our elections. Election officials, from local offices to secretaries of state, cannot wash their hands of the federal requirement to maintain accurate voter rolls for any reason. This decision should serve as clear evidence that citizens can and will hold our election system accountable.

Monday’s decision set a standard for private citizens wanting to make a difference. Bloated voter rolls are clear evidence that election officials are not doing the jobs they were hired to do. With this early victory, True the Vote and Judicial Watch will continue to expose and correct any instance of failure to maintain our voter rolls. Hopefully the parties can reach a settlement that fixes the problem and saves Indiana taxpayers from the needless cost of litigation.

If you’ve been reading this space for any length of time, you know that election fraud is a massive problem nationwide.

According to research published by the non-partisan Pew Charitable Trust in February 2012, approximately 24 million active voter registrations throughout the United States – or one out of every eight registrations – are either no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.

And dirty lists equal fraudulent election results. A recent article in the New York Post makes the point: “Current voter-registration systems are flawed, with huge numbers of dead or disqualified voters still on the rolls. And, since voter-ID enforcement is poor, in many places a person can simply claim to be one of those people and vote in their name with no one the wiser.”

For all of these reasons, Judicial Watch officially launched its Election Integrity Project earlier this year, an effort that now continues into 2013 and beyond. JW conducted an investigation demonstrating that voter rolls in the following states contained the names of individuals ineligible to vote: Mississippi, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, Alabama, and California. Judicial Watch put these states on notice that they must clean up their voter registration lists or face Judicial Watch lawsuits.

Judicial Watch and True the Vote subsequently filed lawsuits against election officials in Indiana and Ohio, and prompted the state of Florida to purge its registration lists of ineligible voters.  (We also defended Voter ID laws inPennsylvania andSouth Carolina, which will take effect beginning after the New Year.)

The Obama Justice Department, meanwhile, pressured states to register greater numbers of voters on public assistance in 2012, while ignoring a stipulation in the NVRA requiring states to clean up voter registration lists. The Justice Department also opposed voter ID laws and other election integrity measures.

And it appears the administration’s hostility to clean elections is only going to get worse. Just this week, per Bloomberg, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he favors “automatically registering” voters.  Let’s be clear:  the Left wants the federal government to force you to register to vote.  Obama isn’t satisfied with nationalizing your health care – he also wants a federal takeover of our election systems, which is contrary to the Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives the states, not the federal government, the authority to “regulate the time, place, and manner of holding elections.”  Can you think of any threat greater to the security of your vote and elections than federal government bureaucrats – working with the ACORN network – compiling lists on your voting registration and behavior?

The great American patriot, Samuel Adams, who knew well that the right to vote was paid for by the blood of the American Revolution, said that when a person votes, “he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.”

The Obama administration and its leftist allies want to turn our voting processes into a chaotic mess where votes are not secure, dead people cast ballots and illegal and legal aliens flood the polls in record numbers. But Judicial Watch keeps battling.  And as our victory in Indiana shows, we will do it state by state, if necessary.

Three Police Officers Forced to Give DNA Samples

Our nation’s police officers are often attacked for supposedly violating constitutional rights. But who defends police officers when their constitutional rights are trampled?  In a murder investigation taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, three police officers have had their rights trampled by none other than the Phoenix Police Department (PPD). And Judicial Watch is battling in court to protect them.

This week we filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of three Phoenix police officers forced by the City of Phoenix PPD to give DNA samples in the controversial “death unknown” case of fellow police offer Sergeant Sean Drenth. The lawsuit alleges that PPD management forced the officers to surrender their DNA in violation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Hang with me here as I walk through the details of this case, because they are critical to understanding why we have come to the aid of these officers.

The plaintiffs in our lawsuit are officers Daniel Bill, Bryan Hanania, and Michael Malpass. Each of these officers responded to an “officer down” call the night of October 18, 2010. Importantly, none of them came into direct contact with the slain officer, his vehicle, or weapons. The PPD has repeatedly stated that none of the plaintiffs are suspects in Sergeant Sean Drenth’s death, which makes the PPD’s behavior all the more odd.

Sergeant Drenth was found dead outside of his vehicle in a vacant lot one-half mile south of the State Capitol building.

Drenth had been shot in the head. His shotgun was lying lengthwise on his body, centered on his chest with the muzzle pointed towards his chin. A single bullet from the gun had entered just under his chin and burst out through the top of his skull. The sergeant’s secondary weapon was on the ground next to his right ankle, with his handcuffs, cell phone, and flashlight nearby.

Shortly after the discovery of Drenth’s body, more than 300 persons – including then-Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, PPD officers, City of Phoenix fire fighters, City of Phoenix personnel, and Arizona State Capitol police officers and security personnel – converged upon the area. As JW notes in its lawsuit, the officers were among the first responders, but did not come in close proximity to the body:

Plaintiffs Bill and Hanania entered the lot from S. 18th Avenue, but did not proceed beyond the deceased officer’s patrol car. At no point were Plaintiffs Bill and Hanania ever closer than fifteen (15) feet from Sergeant Drenth’s body. They never touched or were closer than fifteen (15) feet from the shotgun that lay across Sergeant Drenth’s chest or the secondary weapon that lay near Sergeant Drenth’s ankle. Nor did they ever touch or enter Sergeant Drenth’s patrol car.

Plaintiff Malpass did not enter the lot. He was never closer than thirty (30) feet from Sergeant Drenth’s body. He never touched or was closer than thirty (30) feet from the shotgun or the secondary weapon found with Sergeant Drenth’s body, and he never touched or entered Sergeant Drenth’s patrol car.

Later in the evening, when Drenth’s service weapon was found near the railroad tracks south of the vacant lot, according the complaint, “The team moved to the south side of the tracks in order to avoid disturbing the area near the service weapon.”

Subsequent to the searches, the teams in which the plaintiffs were included provided detailed reports as to their actions and whereabouts throughout the evening of Sergeant Denth’s death on October 18.

According the complaint, “These reports were readily available to PPD management.” Beginning on December 3, 2010, the PPD begin requesting DNA samples “for exclusionary purposes” from all PDD officers at the crime scene, including officers Bill, Hanania, and Malpass.

In April 2011, PPD employees, including the plaintiffs, who had declined to provide DNA were delivered a memo requesting immediate compliance. That memo was presented to Officers Bill, Hanania, and Malpass on April 18, 2011, at which time each of the officers again informed the investigating detectives of their specific locations and activities on the night of Sergeant Drenth’s death.

On August 8, 2011, the PPD requested and received orders from the Maricopa County Superior Court to detain officers Bill, Hanania, and Malpass in order to take samples of their DNA. One week later, the PPD detained Bill, Hanania, and Malpass and obtained the DNA samples against their will. Under Arizona law, the DNA samples can be kept for up to 55 years.

So, in sum, our clients were never near Sergeant Denth’s body. The PPD has said they are not suspects in the death of Sergeant Denth. And yet, the PPD forced the officers to submit DNA samples against their will and in violation of their rights.

According to the Judicial Watch complaint filed on December 7, 2012, PPD management “[D]eprived Plaintiffs Bill, Hanania, and Malpass of their rights under the U.S. Constitution by subjecting them to buccal swabs for purposes of DNA analysis without obtaining search warrants, without probable cause, and without having a non-law enforcement special need.”

Simply because officers swear their allegiance to uphold the law doesn’t mean they surrender their rights to be protected under it. The Fourth Amendment cannot be selectively applied by the City of Phoenix.  Citizens have a right to be secure in their persons – and this includes their DNA. (Judicial Watch’s Arizona counsel is Bob Kavanagh.)

This is a cutting-edge lawsuit that has received tons of media coverage in Phoenix.  It is a case that deserves nationwide attention.

JW Joins With Ethics Groups To Call on Congress to Get Back to Work on Ethics

On Wednesday, Judicial Watch’s Director of Investigations and Research, Chris Farrell, joined with representatives of other watchdog organizations at a press conference to deliver a very simple message to House Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: Act now to keep the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) running without interruption.

Roll Call covered the story:

Time is dwindling for House leaders to find and appoint candidates to fill at least four impending openings on the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics before year’s end so its investigative work can continue uninterrupted.

The vacancies, combined with House Republicans’ delay appointing a House Ethics Committee chairman for the next Congress after the heads of other panels were announced, has government-accountability groups worried that ethics issues may be marginalized.

(In addition to Judicial Watch, the groups included: Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Common Cause, National Legal and Policy Center, Public Citizen, Sunlight Foundation and U.S. PIRG.)

Despite assurances from both members of Congress that they remain committed to the OCE, time is running out to do what is necessary to protect it.  As I told Roll Call, “Practically speaking, [the Republican House leadership] is late. There are a lot of things on their plate, but it’s not like it’s a surprise that these appointments are required.”

As Judicial Watch and the other good government groups noted in a letter to Boehner and Pelosi, dated December 12, 2012, there are very specific steps that must now be taken:

The terms of four members of OCE’s board will expire at the end of this year, leaving just the two chairmen – Porter Goss and David Skaggs – as sitting board members. OCE cannot function without an active board of directors…. It is the responsibility of solely your two offices to agree upon and appoint board members for the expired terms in the 113th Congress ….

As you may recall, Judicial Watch played a key role in the creation of the OCE. I testified before Congress on the issue of House ethics reform and we worked with then-Speaker Pelosi to establish the system now in place. It hasn’t functioned perfectly, but as we noted in the December 12th letter, the OCE “provides a critical yet non-intrusive link between the public and the important work of the House Ethics Committee.”

The OCE doesn’t make judgments on ethics cases. (That’s the job of the House Ethics Committee.) It merely serves as an independent fact-finding body that reviews allegations of improper conduct made against Members of Congress and congressional staff. “…In the course of its investigative reports, the agency [offers] useful evidence and insights and helps the public better understand the nature of specific cases,” the letter stated.

(For an in-depth review of how the OCE operates, visit the official OCE website.)

Among the members of Congress investigated by the OCE: Reps. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Laura Richardson (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK), and former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL).

Owing both to its mission and the bi-partisan manner in which the OCE has approached its work, the OCE has been on shaky ground from the beginning. It passed Congress in 2008 by a narrow margin. House Democrats were unhappy with some of the supposedly “tough” sanctions that resulted from the OCE’s work in its early days. The Congressional Black Caucus also took offense to the attention given to its membership by the OCE. And Republican leaders didn’t like the idea from the get-go. (There was even talk at the beginning of the 112th Congress of weakening the OCE or doing away with it altogether.)

Thus far, it has survived these attacks, but at the writing of this update, the OCE’s future is somewhat in doubt. As we note in our letter, if the OCE is allowed to go defunct, enforcement of congressional ethics will be at “dire risk.”

Clearly, the demise of the OCE would not go over well with the American people.

According to a Judicial Watch/Breitbart News Election Day 2012 poll conducted in partnership with Public Opinion Strategies, corruption in the federal government was cited as a serious concern among voters, with 85% saying they are “concerned” and 53% saying they are “very concerned.” And members of Congress wonder why they have a 20% approval rating.

Suffice to say, House Speaker Boehner and Speaker Pelosi would be wise to make the OCE, and ethics in general, a priority in the 113th Congress. Rest assured Judicial Watch will be ever present in reminding them of this obligation to combat corruption among the ranks of Congress.

Until next week…

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