Update: September 28 - Judge Greider has signed an order keeping Phillip Pelletier as Hendry Property Appraiser.
LABELLE, FL. -- Circuit Judge Christine Greider heard final arguments Tuesday morning in LaBelle for the case former Hendry Tax Appraiser Kristina Kulpa brought against Hendry Supervisor of Elections Lucretia Strickland, the Hendry Canvassing Board, and Hendry Tax Appraiser Phillip Pelletier.
Kulpa is disputing the November 2008 election results, in which she lost by 5 votes of some 10,500 counted. Kulpa alleges 14 convicted felon votes were illegally received by Election Supervisor Strickland, as well as alleging absentee votes were made by three non-residents, and a some voters had unauthorized assistance at the polls by Clewiston community activist Brenda Brooks.
Judge Greider told the parties, at the conclusion of ten hours of testimony and legal argument, that this ''is a very important case...requiring extensive fact finding.'' Greider must determine whether any illegal votes were counted that would be enough to change the status of the November election results for Hendry's Tax Appraiser.
Greider said she will make a written decision ''as quickly as possible'' considering Florida state statutes require the courts to provide an immediate hearing in election disputes. This case has gone on for 10 months, having been before the appellate court before resuming pleadings in the Circuit court a few months ago.
A complicated case based on Florida's election laws from the Florida Statutes, and Florida Administrative Code, Greider will have to determine the facts from testimony and exhibits as to whether there were any illegal votes counted, if there were non-residents voting, and if any alleged improper assistance at the polls would render any votes illegal.
And finally Greider, will have to determine if any illegal votes would have changed the election. If she finds affirmatively, she would have the option to vacate the November election, and cause a new election to be held as a remedy.
Meanwhile, Hendry county taxpayers are on the hook for attorney's fees for Lucretia Strickland, represented by attorneys Owen Luckey, Jr. and Jimmy Luckey. As of August 26th, the firm had been paid $77,609.77 by Hendry county for legal costs. County attorney Mark Lapp is defending the Hendry Canvassing Board.
Pelletier and Kulpa are paying their own way for attorneys, respectively attorneys Tom Hart and Peter Feaman, although Kulpa had received some several thousands of dollars from the Hendry Republican Party at the beginning of her lawsuit.