Press-Republican

March 26, 2014

Malone Town Councilor facing 4 misdemeanor charges

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Malone Town Council member Mary Scharf pleaded not guilty Tuesday to four misdemeanor charges that accuse her of falsifying petitions and violating State Election Law.

Scharf, 63, of River Road was arraigned in Town of Malone Court before Acting Town Justice Fred Boardway on two counts of second-degree offering a false instrument for filing and two counts of misconduct in relation to petitions in violation of State Election Law.

Because there is a conflict of interest with any of the town’s three judges hearing a case concerning an elected town official, Scharf’s file will be transferred to Franklin County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr., who will assign it to a different municipal court.

The investigation was handled by Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie, whom Main appointed special prosecutor last fall.

‘SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE’

The case involves alleged alterations made to Democratic Party petitions filed with the County Board of Elections to nominate members of the party’s county and town committees.

Scharf, who did not yet have an attorney, said Tuesday after court that she has done nothing wrong.

She said she followed nominating-petition instructions from County Democratic Party Board of Elections Commissioner Kelly Cox.

“I did exactly what she told me, to the letter,” Scharf said. “That was supposed to be the expert (instruction).”

Wylie said State Police investigated and that his office “reviewed the case, and we believe there was sufficient evidence for charges to be filed.”

He said no one else will face prosecution, despite Scharf’s claims against Cox.

“The charges are solely against Mary,” he said. “We didn’t have that come up as part of our investigation.”

‘BLINDSIDED’

When asked to comment on the fact that she would be the only person facing charges, Scharf said, “I have no opinion on that.

“I was totally blindsided by all of this, and all I know is I’m not guilty.”

Cox declined to comment and referred all questions to County Democratic Party Chair Kathy Fleury, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Scharf was among several people who carried nominating petitions in July 2013 with the names of two people from each of the town’s 10 election districts who were nominated to serve on both party committees.

Petitions must contain signatures from at least 5 percent of the eligible party voters in their own election district.

Election Law states it is the responsibility of the person carrying the petition to verify the signatures and each person’s eligibility to sign in a certain district.

DEPOSITIONS

Anyone can file an objection to a petition within three days of it being handed in to the county, and the person raising the objection has six days to specify what signatures may be invalid.

Questions were raised about petitions Scharf carried that sought signatures nominating Hugh Hill and Jean Pond on one and Donald Merrick and Deborah Merrick on another.

The misconduct charges filed by the DA’s Office state that Scharf presented a designating petition to the Board of Elections with a candidate’s name written in but crossed out and replaced by another name “after one person signed the petition.” 

As well, it is alleged, the name of a candidate was lined out and the district number changed from 5 to 7.

The charges involving the alleged district-number changes are based on the investigation and depositions from Christopher LaBrake and Donald Merrick, the paperwork states. Supporting depositions for the allegation of crossed-out names came from Julie Sweet and Hugh Hill.

CALLS IT HARASSMENT

Wylie said names and district numbers were reportedly scratched off the petitions and others substituted for them, and his job was to probe whether those changes occurred before or after the signatures were collected.

Scharf said she has had party members and other people stopping her on the street and calling her with their support and that she considers herself a reformer who helped strengthen the local Democratic Party, working to bring the town’s committee to a full 20 members.

She said she realizes sometimes those efforts have upset what she calls the “good old boys” network of “greed and power” struggles.

“I’m not the first person to be harassed,” Scharf said.

Her legal plight, she said, is a test of good government.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com