DEARBORN — The race for 19th District court judge in Dearborn took a turn this week when the Board of Canvassers in Lansing dismissed enough of candidate Candyce Abbatt's challenges against opponent Sam Salamey, which will now allow him to stay on the ballot. The meeting, held on Wednesday, ended with a 4-0 unanimous decision by the board that deemed Salamey had enough valid signatures to compete in the race which heads towards the Primary on August 7.
|"I am very pleased that this issue has been resolved and that I can now focus fully on the issues that are important to Dearborn voters... I will continue my mission to ensure that justice is being served in a fair and efficient manner at our court." - Sam Salamey|
In May, Abbatt filed her challenges against Salamey's signature petitions claiming that more than half of the signatures were invalid due to errors which included various spellings of names and streets, which Salamey's camp had argued were just common human errors. She also claimed that one of Salamey’s circulators was an unregistered voter.
A total of 400 signatures are needed in order to run for district judge in the city, however Abbatt had claimed that only around 270 of Salamey's signatures were valid, despite his campaign having turned in the maximum number of 800 signatures weeks before the May 1st deadline.
The race intensified last week between the candidates when Abbatt had claimed that her challenges were a normal part of the election process, however Salamey's campaign fired back that racial overtones might have been behind the motives. Salamey's campaign also had stated that they were preparing an ethical investigation against Abbatt because her challenges against Salamey were inconsistent.
Salamey noted that many of Abbatt's claims were totally without merit. He states that Abbatt alleged that more than 30 signatures belonging to Salamey's own sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews and campaign volunteers were deemed "fake."
The Board of Canvassers staff had already reviewed Abbatt's challenges earlier in the week and deemed that Salamey had more than enough valid signatures to remain in the race. The staff had recommended that the board vote to dismiss the challenges when they would eventually hold a meeting 48 hours later. That meeting however, didn't go as smoothly as expected.
In the 11th hour, Abbatt's campaign had brought along a handwriting expert to the meeting who then tried to dispel the staff's findings in an effort to prove that her challenges were legit before they cast their votes.
"After the testimony of Erich Speckin, a nationally renowned forensic handwriting expert, another 60 signatures were found to be forgeries, including signatures by at least one circulator of petitions and an additional 15 signatures disallowed for the unregistered circulator. The Board declined to invalidate additional petition signatures gathered by this circulator which would have put Salamey under the required number, but the Chairwoman suggested that this might be a matter for the Attorney General's office to investigate," Abbatt's campaign told us in a statement.
Salamey's camp however rebuttaled with their very own handwriting expert who further dismissed Abbatt's challenges.
According to Salamey's campaign attorney, Melvin "Butch" Hollowell, who was present at the meeting in Lansing, Abbatt's last minute decision to bring along a handwriting expert did not sit well with the board, causing the meeting to last more than six hours. Speckin’s handwriting expert credentials were also questioned when Hollowell pointed out that he had been investigated by a federal judge in both New York and Ohio, as well as Hong Kong.
"We were able to look at the investigation and question his credibility which was really important for the panel to hear. We were also able to discredit him with our own expert, who is one of the leading experts in the state of Michigan," Hollowell stated. "They voted unanimously to certify the petitions. We are extremely pleased and Salamey is very grateful for the democratic process now that voters have the opportunity to be represented. It's a big win for democracy," he added.
Abbatt's campaign states that "Challenges are a normal part of the political process. Statewide there were 11, including one in the Wayne County Circuit Court."
"The dignity of judicial office mandates that a candidate for judge use the utmost care in insuring the integrity of the election process and understand the law, especially now. Voters deserve no less," Abbatt stated.
Salamey's campaign however claims that the challenges filed by Abbatt were "an unnecessary distraction, directed at stifling the voice of the voters and an attempt to bypass the ballot box in deciding an election. It appears that the true intent of the challenges against Salamey was to challenge the integrity of Dearborn voters."
Salamey, who says he is very pleased with the decision made by the board, says he is ready to get back on track.
"I am very pleased that this issue has been resolved and that I can now focus fully on the issues that are important to Dearborn voters," Salamey told us. "I will continue my mission to ensure that justice is being served in a fair and efficient manner at our court.”
Abbatt and Salamey will now compete against current Dearborn Judge Richard Wygonik in the Primary. The candidates that receive the two highest vote totals will then proceed to the general election in November.