The lawyers challenging the outcome of Bridgeport’s recent Democratic mayoral primary gathered in court on Monday but told the judge they will need more time to review thousands of documents and hundreds of hours video footage that are key to the case.
The lawsuit was initiated by John Gomes, who lost the recent election by 251 votes to Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, after surveillance footage emerged that allegedly shows a Ganim supporter dumping handfuls of absentee ballots into a drop box outside the city’s Government Center ahead of the Sept. 12 primary.
Gomes is eager to proceed with the lawsuit that seeks to halt the certification of the primary and to order a new election.
But before his attorneys can call witnesses to the stand, they need to review the 2,630 absentee ballots that were cast during the election and to analyze an estimated 2,000 hours of surveillance footage of absentee ballot drop boxes that were used in several areas of the city.
That footage covers more than four weeks between Aug. 22 and Sept. 12.
William Bloss, Gomes’ attorney, has handled election challenges in the past, including lawsuits involving absentee ballot issues in Bridgeport. But Bloss told state Superior Court Judge William Clark that the video footage, which has become a centerpiece of Gomes’ case, likely makes the lawsuit unprecedented.
“This is a case like no other in the history of the state of Connecticut, because there’s an unprecedented amount of video evidence and documentary evidence that we’re going to do everything we can to go through in a timely way and try to get to the bottom of what happened here during this primary,” Bloss said outside the courthouse Monday.
Bloss has already subpoenaed Wanda Geter-Pataky, the woman who is allegedly depicted in the city surveillance footage dropping off handfuls of ballots. And he told the judge that he was in contact with an attorney who was personally representing Geter-Pataky, who serves as the vice chair of Bridgeport’s Democratic Town Committee.
The Gomes legal team is still waiting, however, for the city to turn over the massive amount of video footage to determine if there are other examples of people allegedly mishandling absentee ballots.
To try to speed up their review of the video surveillance footage, Gomes’ attorneys also subpoenaed the Bridgeport Police Department for any internal police reports involving allegations of mishandling absentee ballots.
Bloss told the judge he wanted to use those reports to narrow down the footage that would be relevant to the lawsuit, but John Bohannon Jr., a city attorney representing the police department, filed a motion on Monday asking the judge to deny that request.
Bohannon argued that there was still an active investigation and that it would be inappropriate for the city to release the records.
“The Department does have an open investigation,” Bohannon told the judge.
Bloss told members of the media after the hearing that it was his intention to put Geter-Pataky on the witness stand as part of the lawsuit.
“She’s under subpoena, so she doesn’t have a choice of whether she’s going to testify. She can do one of two things: You can either testify as to what happened and what her involvement was, or it’s always her option to take the Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination,” Bloss said.
Ganim, who is running for his eighth term as the mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, did not participate in the hearing Monday, and he did not send an attorney to the courthouse to represent him.
Gomes, who previously worked as a chief administrative officer in the city, told reporters after the hearing that he would like a new primary to be held before the general election on November 7.
The time is ticking on that hope, however, and it’s not just the video footage that lawyers need to review.
The absentee ballots that were cast in the election are also important in the lawsuit.
Those paper ballots, and the outer envelopes they arrived in, are currently in the procession of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which voted last week to open its own investigation into several complaints and referrals it received following the Bridgeport primary.
A lawyer with the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office told the judge on Monday that the enforcement commission was working to provide all of the parties to the lawsuit with access to those ballots.
Clark, the judge in the case, implored the lawyers to continue to work together to get through discovery and advance the case. And he recognized that the lawsuit was being watched by people throughout Connecticut.
“There is great public interest in the integrity of elections,” Clark said.
The number of people who packed the small courtroom on Monday was evidence of that interest.
Among the crowd of court watchers was state Sen. Marilyn Moore, who lost Bridgeport’s 2019 Democratic primary for mayor to Ganim, and Gemeem Davis, the vice president of Bridgeport Generation Now, which challenged that 2019 election based on absentee ballot irregularities.
Moore, who complained about the absentee ballot tactics during her mayoral run, said Gomes’s legal challenge has one thing that the lawsuits in 2019 didn’t have: video evidence of potential absentee ballot manipulation.
A scheduling conference is set for Oct. 2.