RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A state court judge on Wednesday ordered that the name of an Independent candidate for Congress be struck from this year’s ballot after he concluded the effort to get her on it was fraught with “fraud, forgery and perjury.”
Judge Gregory Rupe, who presides in Virginia’s 13th Judicial Circuit, concluded candidate Shaun Brown and her supporters cut every conceivable corner to collect the more than 1,000 signatures she needed to get on the ballot for the upcoming midterm election.
He also said smaller discrepancies in Brown’s paperwork, including the listing of fake addresses on her petitions, were “sophomoric.”
In an August civil filing, the Virginia Democratic Party claimed Brown, with the help of staff members of incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Taylor, used the names of dead people and others who did not legitimately sign the petition to push her over the signature threshold for qualifying for the ballot.
Over the course of Wednesday’s four-hour hearing, Brown denied knowing Taylor’s staff was involved in her petition efforts. Taylor told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper earlier this year that he sent his staffers to help the political novice, but he has since avoided discussing the issue.
In court, the plaintiff Democrats argued both Brown and Taylor were involved in an illicit bid to get her on the ballot, and that the Republican’s hope was to split the democratic vote and ensure his re-election.
“The democratic party, the commonwealth, and the Board of Elections should not have this fraud committed against them,” said Jeffrey Breit, who represented the plaintiffs. “They should not have the wool pulled over the eyes and the court needs to make that determination.”
At issue was the state Board of Elections lack of specific authority to address fraud allegations after a ballot has been certified. While Brown’s petition was certified earlier this year, a whistleblower report to a local public radio station led to the discovery of several discrepancies in her signatures. Among them were the names of dead people, those who had since moved out of the state, and others who said their names and signatures were completely fraudulent.
For its part, the Board of Elections put up little resistance to evidence presented or witness testimony.
“The Department of Elections has no tolerance for fraud,” said lawyer Steven Cobb on behalf of the agency. “We’re here to stand by whatever decision the court makes.”
On Wednesday, five members of Taylor’s staff, including his former campaign manager, submitted affidavits asserting their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves when asked about the legality of their signature collection, the role Taylor played in ordering them to collect signatures, and whether there was a concerted effort to defraud the Board of Elections in their signature collection.
This, according to Breit, will protect them in criminal cases but in civil challenges it presented the image of guilt which aided to the court in getting to today’s decision.
While Taylor had been subpoenaed to appear at today’s trial, that order was quashed under state law which allows elected officials to dodge such court orders.
Taylor’s campaign is also subject to a separate criminal investigation.
James Ellenson, who is representing Brown, argued that neither the court nor and board of elections have the authority to pull her name from the ballot. He also said that while “Taylor’s folks did whatever they did,” Brown was unaware and should not be punished for the misdeeds of others.
Approached by reporters on the steps of the courthouse following Rupe’s decision, Brown quoted the controversial new Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick.
“Believe in something even if you have to sacrifice everything,” she said, again swearing she had no knowledge of Taylor’s involvement in her petition drive and wondering if he was “trying to help us or try and hurt us.”
Brown said she entered the race as an Independent after the Democrats decided on another candidate before the primary.
Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, is that candidate, despite the fact she has admitted to voting for Taylor in the past.
Brown said she plans to appeal Rupe’s ruling to the state supreme court.
The fracas over Brown’s petition signatures is by far the largest legal controversy to materialize in an election year when all 11 of the state’s congressional seats are up for grabs.
Taylor, once considered the most progressive member of the state GOP has since shifted to the right, aligning himself with President Donald Trump.