Stephanie Carman, DCBA president and counsel with Hogan Lovells, Miami. Courtesy photo.

The Dade County Bar Association’s election committee has wrapped up an investigation into its May 2018 election after multiple members voiced concerns over its ”validity.”

In a memo sent to members, DCBA president Stephanie L. Carman attached the election committee’s report, which stated there were “no irregularities in, nor any challenges to the election vote totals.”

Several members became concerned soon after the election upon hearing that bar secretary and one of five poll officers, Jane W. Muir, who was also running in the election, had contacted election company BallotBox the day before the poll.

Muir asked BallotBox employee Maya Kelp to remove an opt-out button she’d included on the ballot that enabled voters to choose not to vote on certain positions, and which, according to the DCBA’s by-laws, was a no-no.

But Kelp argued that removing this option might make members less likely to vote.

Some saw Muir’s intervention as a conflict of interest.

Jordan Dresnick, DCBA president at the time, appointed a group of members to investigate the claims. But according to the election committee’s report, he did so without proper authorization.


Dade County Bar Association seal.

Click here to read the full DCBA election committee report.


Dresnick, who recused himself from the investigation on May 25, did not wish to comment on the matter.

But Alan Alvarez, one of the members Dresnick appointed to investigate, said it was “laughable” that the investigation has been closed.

“I didn’t run for anything. I just don’t think it’s fair,” Alvarez said. “I don’t see how (Muir) doesn’t have a conflict of interest. How can you be a candidate overseeing the election process, and then rigging the election process so that is not indicative of what the voters wishes are?”

Jane Muir of J. Muir & Associates, Miami. Courtesy photo.

According to Muir, there was no alternative secretary who could have acted on her behalf.

“But really, it’s irrelevant because the staff conducts the election. We (poll officers) just oversee, and we’ve done the same procedure for years ever since we started using the electronic ballots,” Muir said.

As part of his investigation, Alvarez emailed Kelp at BallotBox, who described the DCBA’s May election as “highly unusual” and detailed her version of events.

Kelp’s response was recently “widely circulated” among DCBA members, according to the report, which prompted Carman to round up a committee.

“All concerns that are raised to me are addressed,” Carman said. ”I consider and evaluate everything that’s brought to my attention and take these things seriously.”


Read the email exchange between Alvarez and Kelp:


According to Kelp’s email, she and Muir clashed during a phone call over the opt-out saga.

“From the beginning of the phone call on, she is very short and of tone and is somewhere between frustration and anger,” Kelp wrote.

The call occurred May 10, the day before the poll, and according to Election Committee Chair Thomas Mead Santoro, that’s likely why tensions ran high.

“I think it’s because it was late in the afternoon, Jane was in a hurry. It was also late in the afternoon for Ms. Kelp. She had to get the ballot out by midday the next day and I think she was a little frustrated,” Santoro said.

Kelp later told DCBA member Evian White De Leon that she’d spoken with Alvarez at Dresnick’s instruction, and that she thought the email was sent “in confidence.”


Read the email exchange between Kelp and De Leon:


The committee’s report said Kelp’s response ”reflected a lack of understanding of the requirements of our by-laws and unfortunately may provide fodder for spurious claims to be made.”

Important to note, Santoro said, was that Kelp was relatively new to BallotBox, whereas Muir was “about the only person who was familiar with how elections had been run in the past.”

Muir said she asked Kelp to remove the opt-out feature because “it was my job to follow the by-laws and make sure the ballot was correct.”

The by-laws state that if voters don’t cast a ballot for every vacancy, their vote won’t be counted.

“Because of that specific rule, we don’t have a no vote option,” Muir said. “The complaining members, if they had read this rule, would understand why it had to be done.”

But Kelp, the BallotBox employee, resisted the change and said it was common practice to give voters the ability to opt out on certain races.

“I could see no conflict whatsoever,” Santoro said. “All (Muir) was doing was performing a kind of ministerial task. There certainly wasn’t any conflict of interest for Jane Muir just because she ran for office.”

According to Muir, there was no complaint made through the board.

“The complaining people don’t have experience and, to my knowledge, they didn’t ask. If you had a real concern, wouldn’t you first read the rule and then have your concern put to rest? And secondly, wouldn’t you ask the person who is accused and give them the opportunity to explain?” Muir said.

The way Alvarez sees it, Kelp’s email “says it all.”

“I don’t understand how you sweep that under the rug,” Alvarez said. “We’re a bar association of lawyers, which means we’re supposed to be maintaining the integrity of the system, and I think that the association fell short when (Muir) did what she did.”

The issue has since been branded by the elections committee as “unfounded” and “of no consequence,” and the election results have been accepted.

None of the races were close, but according to the report, three affected candidates were asked about a do-over but declined.

“I think part of the motivation is bruised egos, because the challengers had such a poor outcome,” Muir said. ”The membership clearly wants to restore our organization’s focus on pro bono, education and professionalism, and that is demonstrated by the election results.”

 

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