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In Hartford: Testimony Ends In Lawsuit Over Petitions

By STEVEN GOODE

February 24, 2010

HARTFORD - Testimony concluded Wednesday in a lawsuit filed by a slate of candidates hoping to represent the city's fifth district on the Democratic town committee.

The plaintiffs charge that Olga Vazquez, Democratic registrar of voters and a member of the opposition slate of candidates, broke the law by accepting incomplete signature petitions and completing them herself. The lawsuit also says that Vazquez completed the forms after the deadline passed for filing them.

Vazquez's actions, the plaintiffs say, have rendered the petitions invalid, leaving the opposition slate short of the signatures needed to get on the ballot for next week's primary.

If the judge rules in their favor, the plaintiffs could win 12 seats representing the fifth district on the 66-seat Hartford Democratic Town Committee. And with another 22 seats at stake in primaries in the fourth and seventh districts, victories for one or more of the challenge slates those not aligned with Mayor Eddie A. Perez could have a profound effect on the next mayoral and city council races.

To Steve Harris, a former city councilman and member of the plaintiffs' slate who says he is fed up with high taxes and reduced services, that could be a good thing.

"We concentrate on the mayor and the council races, when it's the town committee that determines who we will vote for," Harris said.

Ted Bromley, an attorney with the secretary of the state's office, testified Tuesday that the incomplete petitions should, by state statute, be declared invalid. During cross-examination by city Corporation Counsel John Rose, Bromley said some of the plaintiffs' own petitions should be discarded because they, too, were not completed by the 4 p.m. deadline on Jan. 27.

On Wednesday, Garey Coleman, deputy registrar of voters in Hartford who was also named in the suit, testified that he completed the section of the petitions that was supposed to be completed by the circulators. He said he thought he had made a clerical error by telling the circulators that they didn't have to fill in the section. Coleman said he had mistakenly believed that the section was to be completed only if the circulator lived outside of Hartford.

Clerical errors, such as a registrar's failing to sign the petitions, can be corrected. But Bromley testified that a circulator's failure to fill in the section is not a clerical error and should have been rejected by the registrar's office.

Later, Bruce Rubenstein, a Hartford lawyer hoping to unseat Democratic Town Chairman Sean Arena, and Georgina Holloway, a plaintiff in the suit, testified that Coleman never told them to leave section C blank during petition-gathering information sessions.

Arena, who did not testify, said that he was told by Vazquez not to fill in section C, but his group did so anyway in order to be able to identify whom the petition sheets belonged to. "It was an honest mistake," he said.

Judge Susan Peck is expected to issue a ruling Friday.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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