Independent kicked off ballot amid fraud allegations files appeal ahead of Virginia midterm elections

Shaun Brown, an independent candidate in Virginia's 2nd District, is appealing to that state's Supreme Court...

Posted: Sep 12, 2018 4:41 AM
Updated: Sep 12, 2018 4:41 AM

Shaun Brown, an independent candidate in Virginia's 2nd District, is appealing to that state's Supreme Court in a legal fight to put her name back on the ballot for the upcoming midterm elections.

This comes after Virginia's Democratic Party filed a civil lawsuit in August alleging that signatures on Brown's petition for candidacy had been forged. The lawsuit also alleges that the incumbent Republican's campaign staff actively worked to put Brown, a prior Democratic candidate, on the ballot.

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Last week, a Virginia Circuit Court judge ruled against Brown, ordering her name be removed from the ballot. Richmond Circuit Court Judge Gregory Rupe ruled that Brown's petition "contains forgery, perjury, fraud," and "sophomoric errors." The judge stated in his opinion the "shortcomings are of such a nature, and so substantial," that there was "no doubt that there are less than 1,000 valid signatures," on her petition for candidacy. Virginia state law requires independent candidates for the US House obtain 1,000 signatures on a petition in order to put their name on the ballot.

Brown challenged the judge's ruling and filed an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court on Monday, arguing that the circuit court doesn't have jurisdiction to make that ruling against an executive body, in this case, the Virginia State Board of Elections. The plaintiff's attorney representing the Democratic Party of Virginia and the Virginia attorney general submitted briefs to the Virginia Supreme Court regarding the pending appeal.

"We're looking forward to a successful appeal, and we are just looking forward to hearing from the Virginia Supreme Court," Brown told CNN. When asked whether signatures were forged on her petition, Brown declined to comment.

In a brief to the state Supreme Court, the Virginia attorney general states separately from the Democrats that regardless of the Supreme Court's decision, state election officials have told the attorney general that Brown will not appear on the ballot because "the undisputed facts demonstrate rampant fraud."

A criminal investigation into the matter is also ongoing. Roanoke Attorney General Donald Caldwell was appointed as special prosecutor of the criminal investigation on August 7.

Allegedly forged signatures

The Democratic Party of Virginia first brought the civil lawsuit against the Department of Elections and Virginia State Board of Elections alleging that signatures on Brown's petition for candidacy had been forged in August. The initial suit contained 35 affidavits from individuals who claimed that their signature or their family member's signature on Brown's petition were forged, according to court documents.

A few days later, the Democratic Party of Virginia added to the lawsuit, alleging that five paid staffers of Rep. Scott Taylor, the Republican incumbent running for re-election in this congressional district, had circulated petitions on Brown's behalf.

In evidence presented in court, the plaintiff's attorneys obtained affidavits from five of Taylor's staffers.

The questions on the affidavits included whether staffers knew that signatures were forged when they turned in petitions they had circulated for Brown. Each staffer asked this question said they would use their Fifth Amendment privilege and not answer.

Each affidavit also asked, "isn't it true that the effort of Scott Taylor's campaign staff to collect signatures in support of Ms. Brown's candidacy was directed by the Congressman Scott Taylor?" All five answered that if they were called to testify in court and answer that question under oath they would invoke their "Fifth Amendment privilege" and "decline to answer," according to court documents.

The judge ruled that signatures collected by those five people must be considered invalid, a total of 600 signatures. All five were paid by Taylor's campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

"Scott Taylor's staff defrauded the Commonwealth of Virginia and deceived the constituents Rep. Taylor claims to represent," Democratic Party of Virginia Communications Director Jake Rubenstein said in a statement.

Taylor was subpoenaed to testify in the suit. He filed a motion to quash, which was granted. In his motion, he states "the Democratic Party has not alleged that Taylor collected any signatures or circulated any petitions. He did not. Accordingly, any testimony from Taylor is irrelevant and unnecessary."

Taylor's office did not return CNN's request for comment.

Brown ran as the Democratic candidate in 2016 but lost to Taylor. In 2017, federal prosecutors charged Brown with wire fraud and theft of government property for defrauding the government of "$439,000 in connection with a program to feed needy children." They also alleged that Brown had lied in FEC filings about donating more than $700,000 to her first campaign for Congress and "then getting reimbursed for it," according to court documents. Brown has denied these charges.

Brown's trial for the federal charges ended in a mistrial over the summer. The re-trial is scheduled to begin October 9, according to court documents. When asked about the ongoing case by CNN, Brown declined to comment.

If placed on the ballot, Brown would be a third option for voters, competing against Republican Rep. Scott Taylor and Democratic challenger Elaine Luria.

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