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JOSEPH ALEXANDER AND DANIEL W. AMBROSE v. HENRITA TODMAN (10/21/64)

: October 21, 1964.

JOSEPH ALEXANDER AND DANIEL W. AMBROSE, RESPECTIVELY PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, ACTING ON BEHALF OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, APPELLEES,
v.
HENRITA TODMAN, SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS, APPELLANT. JOSEPH ALEXANDER AND DANIEL W. AMBROSE, RESPECTIVELY PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, ACTING ON BEHALF OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, ET AL., APPELLEES, V. HENRITA TODMAN, SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS, AND EARLE B. OTTLEY, ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Author: Forman

Before FORMAN, SMITH and FREEDMAN, Circuit Judges.

FORMAN, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from two cases*fn1 consolidated for trial producing two judgments of the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands.

The judgment in Civil No. 158, among other things, ordered appellant Henrita Todman, Supervisor of Elections in the Virgin Islands, to certify a slate of candidates to the Democratic Party's governing body, the Territorial Committee, which slate had substantially been replaced in a primary contest by a competing group of alleged Democrats led by appellants, Ottley, et al. That judgment also declared as null and void a petition filed by parties associated with appellants, Ottley, et al., registering the Democratic Party under the new Election Code. Appellant Todman was ordered to declare that petition a nullity and to remove it from her records.

In Civil No. 260, the court, among other things, enjoined appellants, Ottley, et al., from acting as or representing themselves to be, members of the Territorial Committee of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands and from engaging in political activities as representatives of the Democratic Party. The judgment also declared null and void any actions taken, and rules or procedures passed, by the Territorial Committee of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands under the leadership of the appellants.

In both actions in the District Court the defendants, now appellants in this Court, counterclaimed, seeking injunctions directing the plaintiffs-appellees and their supporters, associates, and agents to refrain from holding themselves out as the lawful governing body of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands. Both counterclaims were dismissed by the District Court.

Briefly, this litigation, though notably voluminous, essentially records the following pertinent facts:

Party politics in the Virgin Islands has revolved around a two-party system, the two parties of power being the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, on behalf of which the plaintiffs-appellees appear, and the Virgin Islands Unity Party. The former, which has been in existence for thirty years, had an organizational connection with the National Democratic Party on the continental United States, while the latter, which had been formed in 1954, had no such connection with any other continental party. Membership in both parties was organized through the use of the political "club" system, the Virgin Islands for many years being without election code provisions governing party affiliation.

The Virgin Islands eleven-seat unicameral legislature was composed of six Unity Party Senators, four Democratic Party Senators and one Independent Senator (who has since become a Democrat), at the time the election code provisions were being considered. The present Election Code passed the aboveconstituted legislature by a strictly party vote of six to five on February 20, 1963, amendments passing on March 26, 1963*fn2 The provision which has become of prime significance to this appeal, section 302, provides that any elector of the Virgin Islands, otherwise eligible, could become a member of the party of his or her choice merely by subscribing to support the policies of that party*fn3

Section 301 of the new Election Code created alternate procedures by which a political party could file or petition for recognition under the new election law, on or before May 1, 1963. Under section 301(b)*fn4 the name of any political party organized and functioning in the general election of 1962 could be filed by petition signed by the president and secretary of that party. Section 301(c)*fn5 provided that the name of any political party could also be filed by submitting a petition to the Supervisor of Elections signed by 100 or more electors of the Virgin Islands.

On April 19, 1963, pursuant to section 301(b) of the Election Code, the appellees filed a petition registering the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands. On May 1, 1963, just prior to the deadline for filing political parties under the new code provisions, a group of 165 electors, most of whom were associated with the appellants and with former Unity Party activities, and most of whom were not enrolled Democrats at the time of the filing of their petition, also registered the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands. Appellees, subsequent to May 1, 1963, therefore, demanded that Mrs. Todman hold a hearing under section 301(f)*fn6 of the Election Code, to determine which petition validly registered the Democratic Party, which request was rejected by her.

From May 1, to September 20, 1963, pursuant to section 302*fn7 and subsection (b) (3) of section 303*fn8 of the Election Code, over 10,000 voters enrolled in the Democratic Party. As the Unity Party did not register itself, there was no opportunity for the electorate to enroll in that party. Furthermore, former Unity leaders enrolled, and encouraged their followers to enroll, in the Democratic Party. At the same time, the then constituted Democratic organization was also encouraging enrollment.

Furthermore, subsequent to May 1, 1963, two separate slates of nominees for the Territorial Committee of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands were entered pursuant to the procedures authorized by section 303 of the Election Code. One of these slates, represented by appellees, comprised primarily of people who had been active in the Democratic clubs of the Islands, adopted the Donkey as its symbol. The second slate of candidates, represented by appellants, some of whom had been officers and active members of the Unity Party, adopted the symbol of their alleged dissolved or abandoned Unity Party, the Mortar and Pestle.

On November 1, 1963, the primary election was held and the Mortar and Pestle group won sixteen of the twenty-two seats on the Democratic Party's Territorial Committee. The Supervisor of Elections certified the twenty-two winners, although the six Donkey Democrats refused to sit as part of the newly formed Territorial Committee.

The following legal moves have arisen from the above-stated abbreviated background of this litigation:

Subsequent to the above-mentioned refusal by Mrs. Todman to hold a hearing relative to the filing of the two petitions which were accepted by her as registering the same political party, the plaintiffs-appellees, on June 12, 1963, appealed under section 301(f)*fn9 of the Election Code (Civil No. 158, asking that the second petition registering the Virgin Islands Democratic Party be declared null and void. Mrs. Todman moved to dismiss the complaint, which motion was denied on October 31, 1963*fn10 However, on September, 3, 1963, a second law suit had been filed by the plaintiffs (Civil No. 260). This time the plaintiffs applied to the District Court to preliminarily enjoin the holding of the November 1, 1963 primary election. On October 31, 1963, the District Court also denied this application. However, this second law suit was consolidated for trial with the initial one brought against Mrs. Todman, and on July 20, 1964, Judge Gordon granted plaintiffs the relief for which they asked, as noted at the outset of this opinion. Motions addressed to the District Court to stay the judgment and suspend the injunction in the consolidated cases were denied on July 27, 1964. The present appeal was taken and the motion to stay the judgments and injunctions was renewed before this Court and granted on August 5, 1964, pending an accelerated appeal.

The injunctive relief sought by the plaintiffs-appellees rests on their claim that former Unity Party partisans conspired to perpetrate a scheme of fraudulent enrollment in the Democratic Party for the sole purpose of taking over that Party. The plaintiffs sought to marshal an extensive series of facts relating to the activities of the Unity Party which, they contend, demonstrates the conspiracy and fraud*fn11

Though the defendants-appellants disclaim the charge of conspiracy and fraud, their major defenses are jurisdictional in nature. It is initially argued that the courts are merely faced with a question of who rightfully controls the Democratic Party machinery, a question political in nature and, therefore, not a case or controversy calling for application of the judicial power. Secondly, the defendants contend that the Election Code, itself, provides the exclusive test for enrollment in a party, and for candidates seeking to run in a primary election. As the statute provides the exclusive test, the courts lack jurisdiction to superimpose conditions for party membership beyond those prescribed by the Election Code, say the defendants.

As the interrelationship of both the appellants' and the appellees' arguments emerges, two issues, revolving around section 302 of the Virgin Islands Election Code appear for our determination: (1) Whether the application of section 302 raises a substantial problem of statutory construction within the judicial competence deserving of interpretation and resolution, and (2) Whether the provisions of section 302 ...


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