The attorneys for John Gomes, who is challenging the results of Bridgeport’s recent Democratic mayoral primary, called two key witnesses to the stand on Friday in court, but both declined to answer questions, exerting their Fifth Amendment right against potential self-incrimination.
William Bloss, Gomes’ lawyer in the high-profile election lawsuit, spent 37 minutes questioning Wanda Geter-Pataky, who sat mostly silent on the witness stand as she watched video clips that apparently feature herself placing absentee ballots into a drop box.
Bloss asked questions regarding her role in distributing, collecting and depositing absentee ballots, and 71 times, Geter-Pataky’s attorney John Gulash asserted her privilege, even for simple questions such as where her desk is within City Hall.
The only questions Geter-Pataky did answer involved her job at City Hall. She was recently placed on paid administrative leave and said she has worked for the city for about 20 years.
“I got a letter in the mail that I was on leave until the city investigation is completed,” Geter-Pataky said, confirming “Yes” when Bloss asked if the city investigation involved the absentee ballots issue.
Video surveillance footage allegedly shows Geter-Pataky and former city councilwoman Eneida Martinez delivering documents to ballot drop boxes that were used in the lead-up to the Sept. 12 election.
Bloss played a 19-minute compilation video that spliced together images of several people placing ballots into drop boxes. The video evidence is the centerpiece of Gomes’ effort to overturn the results of the primary.
Bloss asked both women if it was in fact them depicted in 24 separate video clips, and he asked, in several different ways, whether they were handling other people’s ballots, which could potentially be a violation of state elections laws.
“The question is whether absentee ballots were mishandled, and the answer to that is literally, yes, when you see these videos,” Bloss said. “There was concerted activity. You see ballots being handed out to other people, and you see her escorting people with ballots to the drop box and then walking away with them.”
Geter-Pataky, who is the vice chairwoman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee, and Martinez, who is running again for a city council seat, remained silent during most of the questioning. They both allowed their defense attorney, John Gulash, to invoke their Fifth Amendment right for them.
The footage that Bloss showed to the two women is key to his effort to overturn the results of the primary, which Gomes lost to Bridgeport’s incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim by 251 votes.
Gomes’ legal team is attempting to convince Superior Court Judge William Clark that a substantial number of ballots were illegally handled by Ganim supporters and delivered to ballot drop boxes throughout the city.
It’s unclear whether that argument will be enough to convince the judge to order a new primary election.
The video footage that was showcased in court on Friday is also likely to be part of the ongoing investigations by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, which is responsible for policing the state’s election laws.
The SEEC opened several investigations into complaints that were filed following the primary election in Bridgeport. Those complaints included one about a leaked video clip, which allegedly depicts Geter-Pataky dropping ballots into a drop box outside the government center.
If the SEEC finds enough evidence to suggest that election laws were broken, they can refer those cases to the Chief States Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
The surveillance footage was not the only legal argument that Gomes’ team made on Friday, however.
Bloss, who has challenged other election cases in Bridgeport in recent years, also sharply questioned a local election worker Friday morning about how the absentee ballots were handled after they were in the city’s possession.
Bridgeport’s absentee ballots moderator, Maurice Nelson, testified that many of the outer envelopes that the absentee ballots arrived in lacked the town clerk’s signature and should not have been counted as a result.
Nelson spent 45 minutes on the stand as attorneys questioned him about the signature issue and what the words “substantially compliant” meant to him.
Nelson, under questioning by Gomes’ attorney Attorney William Bloss, testified that an envelope with just a stamp that said “town clerk” on it — and without a facsimile of Town Clerk’s Clarence Clemons signature — violated state election laws and should not have been counted.
Bloss later said every absentee ballot that was cast in the election lacked the clerk’s signature.
Defense attorneys Richard Burturla and John Kennelly tried to argue that ballot envelopes with the stamp, which does says “town clerk,” are substantially compliant with state law requiring a signature because they also had a date and time stamp on them and clearly came from the Bridgeport town clerk.
At one point, Kennelly repeatedly showed Nelson an outer envelope that only had “town clerk” stamped on it and asked him, “Should this have been counted?” Nelson hesitated and stared at the screen for many moments before saying, “I don’t think so.”
Outside of court, Kennelly downplayed the signature issue, saying, “it’s clear these were absentee ballots from Bridgeport” and that they qualify as being “substantially compliant” with the law.