The two-week long election fraud trial for the city’s 2nd Ward election began on Monday morning at the Passaic County Courthouse.
New Jersey Superior Court judge Ernest Caposela heard opening remarks from both sides. At the outset, both sides tussled over whether former detective and private investigator Steve Olimpio should testify at the trial.
Susan Champion, former councilman Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman’s attorney, argued Olimpio is an expert witness, who should be allowed to testify at the proceeding to share his findings. However, John Carbone, councilman Shahin Khalique’s attorney, questioned Olimpio’s credibility for stating there’s a “high probability” some of the individuals who voted in the May 10th, 2016 election did not live in the 2nd Ward.
Carbone found fault with a report that made such an assertion. Champion argued the private investigator is no different than a medical expert who makes an assessment after reviewing information.
“There’s no industry, it’s election,” said judge Ernest Caposela, disallowing the private investigator to serve as an expert witness.
Champion and Carbone also made arguments over whether non-family members are allowed to serve as assistors.
“A non-family member is okay as long as there’s disclosure,” said Carbone. He argued a “technical issue” should not invalidate a ballot.
“This was an orchestrated campaign,” argued Champion referring to the large number of mail-in ballots in which certain individuals served as assistors. She said there are people who assisted as many as 40 and 65 voters.
The judge heard from the first witness in the trial before going to recess. Miriam D. Tatis, a voter who voted in the election, denied having requested a mail-in ballot and denied having voted in the election.
“No. I did not,” Tatis responded when Carbone asked if she voted in the election. She said she also never voted using a mail-in ballot.
Tatis said a teenager came to her home twice. Once to register her and a second time at 9 p.m. one night for her signature. She signed the papers without reading them, she said.
The assistor listed on county documents was Foyes Ali. Ali did not appear at the court though he was subpoenaed.
Caposela said he will issue a contempt of court order for Ali at Champion’s request. Carbone explained he may have not appeared due to there being a Muslim holiday today. He also said Akhtaruzzaman’s side may have served “defective” subpoenas by failing to provide transportation fees to witnesses.
Carbone said Tatis’ signature matches and therefore her vote was valid. “She may think she didn’t vote,” he said.
“She clearly said she didn’t vote in the election,” responded Champion. She said Carbone’s argument would render a signature obtained through trickery as legitimate.
“How’s that the American way?” remarked the judge at Carbone’s argument. How can we validate a mail-in vote when she said she didn’t know what she did, said the judge.
Both sides have said each issued more than 200 subpoena which would mean as many as 400 witnesses to testify at the trial. In the first day, there was already frustration in the court room.
“We’re not prepared,” said the judge describing the case as a “quagmire.”