Rare GOP Win at State Election Board

Feb 17, 2023 (Raleigh) By now, you may have heard the news that both Republicans on the Surry County of Elections (CBE) were under fire and about to be removed from their jobs after a coalition of left-wing activist groups accused them of “violating their oath of office,” but something happened at the hearing inquisition in Raleigh and State Board of Elections (SBE) Counsel, Paul Cox, took a major hit to his credibility.

Bob Hall, formerly headed the Soros-backed Democracy NC

The Leftist coalition was butt hurt that Surry CBE member, Jerry Forestieri, had refused to sign the certification document from the 2022 general elections and had written a letter justifying his actions that was a broadside attack against both the NC SBE and Federal District Court Judge Loretta Biggs. It was signed by both Forestieri and the only other Republican on the Surry CBE, Tim DeHann.

In response to their letter, which was signed by both Republican Board members, long-time Democrat activist, Bob Hall, filed an official complaint, along with an additional complaint letter, signed by an array of Leftist organizations. [Note: To see the Forestieri-DeHann letter, scroll to the bottom of Hall’s complaint.]

According to the NC SBE press release, the hearing last Tuesday, was ordered after a preliminary hearing found “prima facie evidence of a violation of election law, duties imposed on board members, and/or participation in irregularities or incompetence to discharge the duties of the office.”

Illegal Hearing

Unable to obtain an attorney in time for the hearing, DeHann and Forestieri sought our help while representing themselves. DeHann was given his chance for opening remarks and he declared the hearing to be illegal for, among other reasons, the fact that the SBE had violated state law by holding the hearing in Raleigh instead of “in the county in which the violations are alleged to have occurred,” as mandated by §163-20(c).

Click image to read all of §163-20

Ignoring DeHann’s complaint, SBE Chairman Damon Circosta attempted to move to the next phase of the hearings, but the lone Republican member present at the hearing, Stacy “Four” Eggers, exhorted Circosta to obtain a legal opinion from SBE Counsel Consigliere, Paul Cox and that was when things got interesting.

Paul Cox (photo courtesy Carolina Journal)

Rather than admit he had blown it, Mr. Cox tried to justify his Board’s clear violation of black-and-white law, but he did not do well under the spotlight

Beginning his extemporaneous defense with appeal to tradition, Cox said, “Thank you, Mr. Eggers uh so historically the state board under various administrations, and various configurations has never considered that provision to apply to hearings on County board member complaints. There have been multiple county board member complaints, going back over the years and never has a state board invoked that provision to go hear those complaints in the county where the board members reside.”

Perhaps realizing how unimpressive he had just sounded, Cox, the highest paid attorney working for the NC SBE, shifted to standard Cooper-era legal strategy: He distorted the law to support a lawless decision. I’d say he failed dismally.

Word salad

As the official recording confirms [scroll to 1:59:04], these were his exact words: “The way that we have interpreted that provision is that it applies to investigations under a separate subsection of the board’s duties under 163–22. So there’s a specific subsection that addresses investigations. That subsection D at 163–22. The subsection that addresses county board member complaints is subsection C of 163–22, and we have interpreted a proceeding the state board would have to investigate violations of the election laws independent of C in other words under D to have to take place in that county and not a board member complaints hearing.”

We’ll cover the statute momentarily, but DeHann nailed his response to the first part of Cox’s explanation.

“So because you haven’t done it in the past, you don’t feel it necessary to do it now, is that what you’re saying?”

Brushing aside DeHann’s comment, Circosta stunningly said, “I’m willing to defer to Counsel on this. I’m happy to poll my colleagues on the question, but I believe we’re in a proper venue.”

That was when Hall chimed in and blew up his entire case with a damaging admission (2:01:00):

“I’ve never charged a violation of 163. There’s nothing you can go through in the complaint, all the documents that I’ve submitted, the evidence, none of the statements I’ve charged… I’m not charging a violation of 163. I’m charging about a failure, a failure, and a breaking of your oath, so these are distinct from violations of specific statutes.”

Chairman Damon Circosta (L) and Stacy “Four” Eggers (R)

Regaining control, Circosta invited another response from Board member Eggers. Evidently not impressed with Cox’s ramblings, he express concerns that the proceeding was “not within the law” and how 163-20(c), means they should hold the hearing in Surry County.

Perhaps flustered by Eggers’ steadfastness, it was Circosta’s turn to speak without appearing panicked by the turn of events. See if you can spot the stress in his exact words:

““So, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna take a 10-minute recess. I’d like to read the statue myself and I’m gonna spend a little time getting up to stuff because it’s been quite some time since I’ve taken a look at that specific provision. I wanna make sure I’m fresh on that, so we’ll take a 15-minute recess and we’ll come back.”

The returned nearly 27 minutes later and Circosta sided with Eggers to reschedule the meeting and and move it to Surry County.

Deep Dive into Cox’s Doublespeak

Call me a geek, but this part seemed interesting enough to make this long post into a “gawd-awful” post, so read on if you dare.

Applying the mercy rule, I’ll save Hall’s damaging admission for another post. Today, we’ll  zero in on the venue question.

Upon returning from the 27-minute recess, Chairman Circosta explained how all three Board members had individually met with Mr. Cox. (Maybe they were as annoyed as I was.)

Mr. Cox had simply continued the standard operating procedures for the Cooper-controlled elections board. He skipped over the inconvenient part of the law and jumped to irrelevant statutes to justify their lawless behavior. Normally, they get away with it by daring the other side to hire attorneys and sue them.

In this case, Cox ignored Subsection C of GS 163-20, which set the venue for all of the Board proceedings about to be explained in subsequent statutes.

That was when Cox pulled a dazzling magician’s trick and jumped to Subsection C of 163-22, which makes no mention of venue. Instead, it empowers the SBE to remove County Board members, “on the failure or neglect of a county board of elections to comply with any part of the election laws imposing duties upon such a board.”

Perhaps to confuse the audience, Cox also mentioned Subsection D of GS 163-22. While this portion of the law also failed to mention venue, it only provided guidance on removing a County Board member:

I’m not an attorney, but I’ve noticed how the state’s election law tries to build upon itself. So, when a later statute might conflict with an earlier portion of the law, they will address the contradiction with lawyerly terms like “notwithstanding.” At any rate, when the Legislature overlooks the conflict they’ve created, the courts wind up sorting it out.

Now, since §163-20 directs the venue of the hearings and subsequent statute (§163-22) doesn’t mention venue, Cox pretended the silence meant he could change the venue and ignore the guidance given two sections earlier.

As we’ve seen all across the nation, that’s the way things work when the Left runs elections, but I digress.

At first Circosta was willing to accept any rationale Cox offered, even if it made no sense. Two problems may have helped change his mind. First, Eggers was tenacious in publicly questioning Mr’ Cox’s gibberish. Second, the aggrieved County Board members made no secret of the fact that they would appeal through the courts if they lost their jobs by means outside of the law.

The appeal would be in Wake County and chances of success are slim to none, but the SBE’s clear violation of law in something as simple as setting the venue may have prejudiced the court against them. It may even have put the SBE on the hook to pay the Defendants’ legal costs.

In conclusion, this weeks win was like winning the play-in round of the ACC Tournament. The next game will be a lot tougher, but the delay has allowed them to pick up some highly qualified legal representation.

The next hearing date has not been set.

Keep and eye on this one!