Judge William McLafferty heard opening arguments from Steve Pappas’ legal team yesterday, kicking off a legal battle for the 3rd District Supervisor seat that is expected to last several weeks. Pappas’ chief counsel Jeff Lake told the court he intends to prove that negligence and mishandling of registration documents undermined the integrity of the election – which saw Doreen Farr win the 3rd District seat by 806 votes – and that the judge should therefore invalidate over 9,000 votes from precincts where he alleges irregularities occurred. Farr’s attorneys opted not to make an opening argument, setting the stage for the prosecution to make its case.
Much of the day was spent questioning County Registrar Joseph Holland, who oversees the voter registration process in Santa Barbara County, about several different irregularities found on voter registration cards from UCSB and Isla Vista. And despite a ruling last week deeming it irrelevant – and inadmissible – Lake asked several questions concerning voter registration cards turned in late or incorrectly filled out by voter drive workers.
“It’s always been about the whole picture, not the small parts – Box 12, Box 10, the Three-day rule, the ID’s, the signatures – you have to look at these things in a holistic way,” Pappas said in interview last night, referring to registration card irregularities. “And that’s what we get to do now – we get to show the judge the whole picture.”
Much of Lake’s questioning of Holland consisted of inquires into the manner in which his office processed registration cards, particularly those submitted from registration drives on the UCSB campus.
Holland admitted that his office accepted registration cards that drive workers held longer than three days, saying that although his office may have ignored certain “broad guidelines,” they followed the law.
“We are not an enforcement body; as long as we get [registration cards] within the 15 days before registration, we will accept them, whether there is a violation or not,” Holland testified.
Farr’s attorney challenged this particular line of questioning, however, citing the judge’s ruling last week. McLafferty sustained, and instructed Lake to move on to a more relevant line of questioning.
In his cross-examination, Farr’s chief counsel, Fredric Woocher, questioned Holland’s own understanding of what constituted voter fraud, and whether he had seen any evidence to support claims of such activity in the recent election.
Holland testified he had not seen any evidence of fraud, adding that his office had been denied access to evidentiary documents.
“[Lake] offered to meet with us, the end result was that we were not supplied with any evidence, no names that we could investigate,” he said. ” Sitting here today, I still have seen no evidence that anyone registered fraudulently.”
The trial is set to continue next Tuesday at 9 a.m., when the prosecution will continue to question staff from the Registrar’s office. Several students involved in the registration drives have also been subpoenaed, and will be testifying as the trial continues.
Pappas, who was in attendance, said he was glad to finally have his day in court.
“I’m very happy today, with the outcome,” he said, following the day’s proceedings. “I’m glad the judge and the public got to see today what I saw two months ago.”
Despite Pappas insistence on holding the trial, he said he hopes it will conclude as soon as possible, for the convenience of all involved.
“It’s better for everyone if the trial gets to the conclusion as soon as we can,” he said. “As it is, the county is in limbo.”