In a lawsuit filed in Broward County Circuit Court, U.S. Congressional candidate Tim Canova alleges Supervisor Of Elections Brenda Snipes is refusing to produce public records in accordance with the Florida Constitution. Canova. a law professor, wants to review ballots cast in the August 2016 Democratic primary. Canova ran against Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Out Of Touch) in the District 23 race. Canova is running again in 2018.
According to the lawsuit, Canova made public records requests to the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE) in March and May 2017. Canova wanted to make copies or scans of the August 2016 ballots. In an April 2017 phone call Broward SOE claimed ballots cannot be copied or scanned. Burnadette Norris-Weeks, attorney for Brenda Snipes, stated that Florida statutes only allowed SOE employees to touch the ballots. Canova's lawyer argued they did not want to "touch" ballots, they simply want copies made by SOE employees. Canova offered to pay to have copiers and scanning machines brought to Snipes' office.
In a May 2017 letter to Norris-Weeks, Canova's lawyer wrote, "You cited to no case law or statutory support that provides any exception to the production of the records sought under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes and we know of none. Ballots are public records and they should be made available for copying/electronic scanning…."
According to the lawsuit, Snipes would not allow a court reporter to be present when ballots were reviewed. Snipes also refused to allow any review of the ballots to be video recorded. The Florida Attorney General's Office issued a written opinion stating ballots are public records subject to copying.
SNIPES PLAYING LEGAL GAMES WITH PUBLIC RECORDS?
In July, Brenda Snipes asked Broward Circuit Court Judge Raag Singhal to dismiss Canova's lawsuit. The motion, prepared by Burnadette Norris-Weeks, claims Snipes' office never refused any request to copy ballots; "At no time has Defendant or any representative of Defendant denied Plaintiff the opportunity to photcopy ballots. Additionally, Plaintiff never requested photocopies of ballots and has failed to show the Court evidence of the same," Norris-Weeks wrote.
According to Snipes' motion, Canova only requested scanning of ballots, not photocopies. Snipes' argument is silly. In her motion to dismiss, Snipes includes the original public records request. Canova's representative offers to pay for all costs associated with copying the ballots including the salaries of SOE employees. Canova's team offers to provide exact copy to SOE with an added layer of encryption.
Is Snipes' unaware of modern technology? What is the difference between "photocopies" and "scans?" Most modern printers are scanners as well. Who wouldn't want a USB drive instead of a truck full of copies? Norris-Weeks never cites to any law drawing a distinction in copying methods.
Plus, if "photocopies" were allowed, why didn't Norris-Weeks mention it to avoid going to court?
SNIPES' LEGAL BILLS KEEP PILING UP
This is just the latest legal case involving Brenda Snipes' questionable management of Broward elections. Last month during a Federal lawsuit, Snipes admitted under oath that illegal votes were cast. to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “Snipes acknowledged the processes her office have been using aren’t perfect and that some non-citizens and felons have voted despite not being eligible — especially right before major elections when groups are actively registering new voters.” Snipes testified in a Federal lawsuit brought by Broward resident Andrea Bellitto and the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU) for violations of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Last week, REDBROWARD detailed the Republican Party of Florida lawsuit against Snipes filed in Broward Circuit Court.
Three lawsuits against Brenda Snipes means lots of legal bills paid by the taxpayers of Broward County. Snipes' repeatedly claimed that Burnadette Norris-Weeks was her private contract attorney.
In 2015, REBROWARD revealed Norris-Weeks worked for years without a formal contract with the Supervisor of Elections Office.
According to documents from the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE), Dr. Brenda Snipes’ “private contract” attorney operated without a contract for twelve years. Burnadette Norris-Weeks has been general counsel for SOE since 2003. The contract, provided by SOE, shows Norris-Weeks signed the “Attorney-Client Fee Contract” on January 1, 2015. Dr. Snipes did not sign the contract until May 14, 2015.
The contract states Norris-Weeks handles, “all legal matters as the assigned General Counsel for [Snipes].” Norris-Weeks receives a flat fee of $5,000 per month. The flat fee does not cover, “matters requiring travel outside of Broward County or litigation matters filed in Federal Court, in any court of appeals or administrative proceeding.” For those matters, SOE must pay Norris-Weeks $175 per hour.
Invoices obtained by REDBROWARD show Norris-Weeks was paid nearly $175,000 between 2012 and 2014. She billed SOE $175 per hour to answer questions from SOE employees and respond to emails from local political consultants. She even billed the same hourly rate to attend election canvassing meetings. During this three year period, Norris-Weeks earned thousands of dollars handling cases in Broward County courtrooms.
In July 2014, REDBROWARD reported Burnadette Norris-Weeks fought to keep non-Democrats from voting in the Broward Commission District 2 primary. In hearings to exclude bogus write-in candidate Tyron Francois from the ballot, Norris-Weeks gave Judge Sandra Perlman a myriad of excuses of why it was too late to open the August 26 primary to Republican and Independent voters. On July 11, Francois testified he did not live in District 2 at the time of qualifying. Francois admitted under oath that he knew Dale Holness’ daughter. Superlawyer William Scherer produced a photograph of Francois and Damara Holness.
REDBROWARD reported Burnadette Norris-Weeks is a longtime supporter of Dale Holness. In October 2012, she made a $500 contribution to Holness’ re-election campaign. Weeks later, Holness was a guest at Norris-Weeks “holiday party.” RED BROWARD obtained pictures of the party Norris-Weeks posted on Facebook. Norris-Weeks took exception to the reporting of her support for Holness. In a conversation with a Daily Broward contributor, she questioned why we did not report her contributions to other Broward Commissioners. Norris-Weeks said, “Last time I checked, there was no prohibition on giving a contribution and I fail to understand the link between the contribution and my responsibilities to my client as an attorney.”
Invoices submitted by Norris-Weeks show she was paid $5,057.50 for the two-day Francois hearing in July. Invoices related to the Francois matter, submitted between June and October 2014, total nearly $40,000 worth of taxpayer dollars.
POLITICS AS USUAL AT BROWARD ELECTIONS OFFICE?
In June 2015, Broward County Commissioners questioned the political activities of Snipes’ office. REDBROWARD reported Norris-Weeks, the private contract attorney for Broward Supervisor of Elections (SOE), hosted candidate forums since at least 2006. Snipes rebuffed requests from Broward County Commissioners to keep her employees and vendors from dealing with elections issues involving candidates they have supported and/or endorsed.
REDBROWARD revealed Burnadette Norris-Weeks operated “The Right Group” political committee from 2003 to 2013. Her committee gave campaign contributions to many local politicians including Joe Eggelletion and Brenda Snipes. REDBROWARD reported the treasurer of Norris-Weeks’ committee is the wife of former South Florida Sun-Sentinel senior editorial writer Douglas C. Lyons.
In March 2006, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel announced a forum for Fort Lauderdale City Commission candidates at the African American Research Library. According to the Sun-Sentinel, “The Council of Civic Associations, which sponsored an earlier forum, is also sponsoring this one. This time, the forum is co-sponsored by The Right Group, a nonprofit political committee formed to educate and empower African-American voters in Broward County.” All political committees are “non-profit.”
Days later, the Sun-Sentinel reported how organizers were upset some candidates skipped the forum. “City Commission candidate Charlotte Rodstrom shunned the only official citywide election forum Thursday, one specifically aimed at black voters,” the newspaper reported. “At the forum, candidates were to take turns responding to questions, including one about whether Sistrunk Boulevard should be narrowed to two lanes. That plan is stalled, because Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom, the candidate’s husband, has blocked it.”
In 2012, The Sun-Sentinel announced another Right Group sponsored candidate forum, “Candidates Forum,6 p.m. at 2520 NW Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Free. Call 954-345-7745.” This number is connected to a business owned by Burnadette Norris-Weeks. No further information on the forum is available.
The Right Group spent $34,000 over the ten years. Norris Weeks’ committee made contributions to the political campaigns of Perry Thurston, Joe Eggelletion, Joe Gibbons, Alain Jean, Eric Jones, Margaret Bates, Chris Smith, Carlton Moore, Albert Jones, Brenda Snipes and even Stacy Ritter.
In September 2014, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Senior Editorial Writer Douglas Lyons wrote an article comparing Norris Weeks to civil rights hero Florynce Kennedy. He wrote about Norris Weeks’ plan to build a non-profit center on Sistrunk Boulevard. Lyons wrote, “To many, it’s a gamble. Launching a research facility isn’t easy, particularly in an area too many people associate with crime, poverty and urban decay. Norris-Weeks wants to prove all the skeptics wrong, something that would make ‘Flo’ Kennedy smile.”
Lyons never disclosed to readers his wife’s ties to Burnadette Norris Weeks.
In 2015, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial supported a Broward County Commission proposal (originally submitted by Commissioner Mark Bogen) which called on Snipes to, “Apply the highest ethical standards, integrity and professionalism, and avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” The editorial described Norris Weeks’ actions in the legal dispute over the County Commission District 2 race; “Norris-Weeks guided and defended the supervisor’s response to his lawsuit, in a case that began over the residency of a write-in candidate. With Norris-Week’s support, Snipes decided not to count the votes of the August primary that showed Bogen had won — effectively giving his opponents more time to campaign.”
Three days after the editorial was published, Lyons announced he was no longer with the Sun-Sentinel.
Fast forward two years, more ongoing lawsuits, growing legal bills, and partisan political ties. Many local political observers wonder if Governor Rick Scott will get more involved.
Also, what is Tim Canova looking for? Clearly someone believes there may be issues with the 2016 Democratic primary ballots in Broward County.
Broward residents deserve answers from Brenda Snipes, not legal games and big legal fees.