Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kim Velez Back On Allentown Ballot

From Left to Right: Monica Schwab (cousin); Lucia Velez (mom); Orestes Velez (dad) : Att'y  Jeff Fleischaker; Kim Velez: Att'y Bill Platt; supporter and friend Adam Bevan

(A shorter version of this story was published on 4/10/11, and was updated with more detail on 4/11/11, at 12:10 AM).

It was a victory, not for a political newcomer, but for democracy. After a half-day of testimony, Lehigh County Judge Michele A. Varricchio ordered that Kimberly Velez be placed back on the ballot in the crowded Allentown City Council race. She had withdrawn under improper pressure from an elections attorney, acting under instructions from the Mayor's political consultant, Michael Fleck. Velez will now be one of nine candidates seeking four open seats. Fleck also represents two of those candidates, incumbents Julio Guridy and Cynthia Mota.

Jeffrey Fleischaker and partner Bill Platt, who represented Velez without charge, were able to paint a picture of Velez and the circumstances that led her to withdraw.

Kimbery Velez is, like many Allentown residents, a water lease opponent, but was unhappy with a City Council that she felt was unresponsive to the wishes of residents. After attending a frustrating year's worth of City Council meetings, Velez was encouraged to run herself by incumbent City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald. At a Democratic meeting, Martin Estrada also spent some time advising Velez on how to circulate petitions and raise money. Then, with Eichenwald's help, Velez began going door-to-door with a voters' list. Once she thought she had enough signatures, she filed her nominating petitions. Voter Registrar Tim Benyo told her she was on the ballot unless she received a call.

That's what happened, and Velez was under the impression that election officials wanted her off the ballot.

On St. Patrick's Day, a Sunday, Velez received word that her cousin, Monica Schwab, had just been called, on her cell phone, by Attorney Tim Brennan. Schwab stated that Brennan identified himself as an attorney with the Election Bureau, although Brennan later stated that he had identified himself as an "election attorney." Both Schwab and Brennan agree that he stated he was conducting an investigation.

That same day, Brennan called Velez, and according to her, identified himself as an attorney with the Democratic Party. Brennan believes he told her, "I represent a qualified Democratic voter in the City of Allentown.

But he didn't. He later acknowledged that his client was actually political consultant Michael Fleck, who is currently managing election contests both for Mayor Edwin Pawlowski as well as Council members Julio Guridy and Cynthia Mota. Pawlowski obviously would not want someone on the ballot who challenges him on City issues. Guriday and Mota would just as obviously be concerned that Velez, who is a Latina, would draw votes away from them.  

Brennan questioned Velez' residency, as well as the validity of the signatures she listed on her nomination petition. He recommended that she withdraw from the race. "Otherwise, we'll settle this in court, and it will be costly," he advised someone who had no attorney. At no time did he advise her to seek independent legal advice. He instead sent her a prepared withdrawal form, and told her to call him as soon as it was filed.

"I was devastated," Velez stated.

Tim Benyo, Voter Registrar, personally received the withdrawal from Velez. He acknowledged that Velez was upset about having to withdraw.

Later that day, after speaking to supporters and realizing that Brennan had no affiliation with either the Democratic Party or the election bureau, she asked Benyo if she could withdraw the withdrawal. Because she spoke of coercion and intimidation, Benyo recommended that Velez speak to the DA or a Judge.  

Velez got nowhere on those fronts.

But she was lucky enough to attract the interest of two Lehigh County attorneys, Jeffrey Fleischaker and partner Bill Platt, who were interested in righting a wrong. She was lucky that Lehigh County Solicitor John Ashcraft was more interested in seeing justice done than in winning. Best of all, the judge who heard this matter was actually willing to listen.

Although she declined to assign any "ill will" to Attorney Tim Brennan, Judge Varricchio did call him "naive" for thinking that a political newcomer would not be intimidated by a Sunday call from an election attorney using words like "investigation," especially when it "wan't clear who he was and who he was doing it for."

She drew particular attention to Brennan's demeanor on the stand, where she had to tell him herself to speak more slowly and take deep breaths.

"I have to find that Ms. Velez based her decision on the potential threat of a lawsuit," she concluded, adding that "she did not have an intelligent and knowing understanding of the consequences of her withdrawal".

Although Judge Varricchio initially called it duress, she later amended her language at the request of Attorney Dan McCarthy, who was representing Brennan and insisted that Brennan had acted innocently.

Judge Varricchio rejected an argument that the Election Code requires that withdrawals must be filed with the state bureau of elections. Attorney Ashcraft told the Court that the law, first drafted in 1937, has been amended many times and is poorly written. But he added that no office has ever required that withdrawals must be filed with the state.

That left one question - ballot position. Tom Benyo and Attorney Ashcraft worried about notice for a new drawing, when Velez voluntarily agreed to take the last spot. "That's certainly fair," said Judge Varricchio. "Thank you Miss Velez," she added noting that they both must be used to being last with surnames that begin with a "V".  Attorney Ashcraft thanked Velez, too.

After it was all over, I got these parting comments:

Bill Platt- "Our firm did a public service and we couldn't be more happy with the result."

Orestes Velez (Kim's dad): "We were counting on the truth, and the truth prevailed. When the truth prevails, everyone wins."

Lehigh County Solicitor John Ashcraft: "We're satisfied. We wanted to uphold the statutory interpretation [of the Elections Code]".

Kim Velez thanked her lawyers, adding, "I'm anxious to start speaking to the voters."


Solicitor John Ashcraft, Registrar Tim Benyo, Deputy Terri Harding

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill Platt is a great guy.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Brennan is toast. I see a disciplinary action in his future.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I doubt it, but he did act foolishly. .

Anonymous said...

If the system works and the good guys won, then Brennan was trying to corrupt the system and is a very bad guy. He should be disciplined. As an officer of the court, his responsibilities in this area of law are great. He willfully failed to uphold these responsibilities. His greasy ethics have marginalized him as a concigliere for the goons. Decent company won't touch him with a hundred foot pole, now.

Anonymous said...

See! There are good attorneys.

Anonymous said...

Now Kim needs to get out and knock on doors; host community meetings and make folks know her position on a number of very serious issues going on right now in Allentown. Crime being top of the list.

Anonymous said...

This Kim person is clearly trying to make trouble. I can't support a person like that! Isn't Platt a Republican? That tells me all I need to know.

Allentown Democrat Voter

Kim Velez said...

No trouble here. Not even trying to get Brennan disbarred. I just wanted to get back on the ballot. Thanks for your comments/participation.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Kim! Can't vote for you because I don't live in Allentown, but read what was done and thought it was a dirty trick.

Glad to see the system actually works the way it should once in awhile.

Good Luck!

BTW, Nice to see there are two lawyers who fight for what's right. I'll use one of them if I need one.

Anonymous said...

Kim, Be prepared to get contacted by a villian from atown, who will try to intimidate you. He hates Bernie and anyone he thinks may like Bernie. My advice is to ignore him, most do. Stay on course.

Chris Casey said...

It is really unfair of anyone to say that Tim Brennan is a bad guy. He is a great guy. This didn't look good for him, but I know him personally and he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. I will be interested to eventually read the transcripts.

Anonymous said...

Tim Brennan is one of the good guys. The judge himself pointed out that he felt there was no ill will on Brennan's part. He is an election attorney doing his job and it is unfortunate that Ms. Velez had little understanding of the system; however justice is done and she is back on the ballot. I do not live in Allentown therefore can not vote for her. I would say, as an outsider looking in, that the foolish action here is to align one's self with Mr O'Hare as he is a fickle. Once his garbage starts spewing, he doesn't stop-cheap shots included on friends and family. Heed the warning Ms. Velez, for your own good and the good of those around you. Take it from someone with firsthand experience.. I would want Tim Brennan on my team a hundred times before I would want Bernie on it.

Anonymous said...

Why is Ms.Velez such a concern to Pawloski,Gurity and Mota.She is only one of nine on the ballot.This seemed to be a Pawloski operation

Anonymous said...

Why is EastonCouncil member Mike Fleck so involved to get Perez off Ballot and who paid him His time is never for free.Needs to be investigated.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Stay tuned.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, Tim Brennan looked pretty bad, as he should have. I'll leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

8:27 -

The judge is a woman. If you're going to make stuff up, at least try to make it believable.

Anonymous said...

Don't know what Fleck and Brennan got paid for trying to get Velez off the ballot, but they ought to be issuing big refunds.

Not only is Velez still there, but they managed to raise her name ID by 100%!

Anonymous said...

I think this goes down as the biggest botch of a political operative in the history of Lehigh County. Sometimes the rules are in place to prevent people from their selves considering the petitions would have probably been tossed on a review.

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:27 sounds like Barron von Footinmouth, and Brennan is his Solicitor. n fact, if Barron ever passes the bar exam, this duo will supposedly start practicing together.

It's no surprise that Barron would get the judge's sex wrong. He doesn't get many things right.

Anonymous said...

It is almost comical to think that Ms. Velez was "intimidated" by Tim Brennan. He is the most honest, honorable, and ethical attorney. He is the least "intimidating" person you could encounter. He is always fair and equitable. As an election attorney he was just doing his job.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Well then you should have tried the case for him. The reality is that he violated the Code of Professional Responsibility. He took unfair advantage of a newcomer with no attorney.

Anonymous said...

This is totally Pud's style politics. The call was surely from the bottom of his great big heart. "Nice guy" must have an alternate meaning in Allentown's lexicon.

Anonymous said...

Kim, look at who your "supporters" are. For one O'Hare and Molovinsky don't even live in the city of Allentown. They activist bloggers whose full time self employed job is to stir the pot. Be very wary.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that whenever there is some sleazy shit goong on, Mike Fleck is not far behind? How in the world does this guy make a living doing political consulting? He couldn't advise a chicken on how to cross the road.

Not surprised that Barron and Brennan are involved. All cut from the same cloth.

Bill said...

As an Allentown Citizen, I will vote for Ms Velez in part because of her experience with this situation. There have been countless times when the Administration has switched things around, done things in private and then most Council members just sign off, while citizens interests are ignored. Dirty, insider politics are alive and well in this community. I want more independent voice on Council, and after this experience, I see Ms Velez as an independent voice, and citizens deserve more independent council members. Out with the old and in with the new is the sentiment with the people I talk with who live in and care about this community.

Anonymous said...

Can't these people just run the campaigns of their candidates? Why waste time and money with these kinds of antics?

Anonymous said...

It's simply incredible to read the continuing defense of Brennan. He took money and willfully attempted to undermine the election process. He is what is wrong with the legal prfession. Good guys do non't do stuff like that. Really, really bad guys do. It seems Brennan has had many fooled for a long time. He should be rejected by the honest and honorable everywhere. Like a mob lawyer, he's now alienated himself from everyone but the thugs.

monkey momma said...

I love this part of the Morning Call article the best: "Pawlowski, Guridy and Mota could not be reached for comment." Big surprise there, huh??

I realize Mota is ill right now, and both her and Guridy really don't seem to have it in them (yet) to stoop this low, but Pawlowski….well, this is just incredibly indicative of what he's all about. Dirty tricks. Back room deals. Whispers and deals behind closed doors. And Fleck handles all the dirty work. It's disgusting. Yet Pawlowski continues to call himself an "ethical" person.

The Velez candidacy is now a referendum on Pawlowski himself. I certainly hope Ms. Velez has more backbone than her quick withdrawal suggests - she is going to need it, especially if she wins!

AMOrlando said...

Hey Bernie, is it politically incorrect to point out that Kim Velez is HOT? Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget, Pawlowski recruited Glenn (im supported by the dogcatcher in portland) Reibmann to run for Northampton county executive. So a vote for reibmann is a vote for this stuff!

Anonymous said...

fleck is also running reibman's campaign

Anonymous said...

What a great outcome! I've said for years that us residents in Allentown really need independent minded candidates, as opposed to the Pawlowski puppets like Julio Guridy. I will be telling all my friends and family members who vote in the Democratic primary to bullet vote for Kim.

Anonymous said...

Is Fleck the new Severson? At this rate, Fleck will be in jail soon too.

OT, Any truth to the rumors that Donchez is using Severson's services?

Anonymous said...

I think Fleck is the big culprit in this action. Can he be held accountable in some way, such as civil rights voting supression issue on a minority candidate?

If the mayor is really interested in running for higher office he needs to dump Fleck. It's guilt by association, not a direct violation, that brings down many polititions.

Fleck has a trail of sleeze in more than this situation. He will be luckey to stay out of serious legal trouble eventually. He is still involved in some questionable work in Reading being investigated?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Hey Bernie, is it politically incorrect to point out that Kim Velez is HOT? Just sayin."

Probably, but that won't hurt her candidacy. She is a rising Superstar, and I love that she is aligned with people like Jeanetter Eichenwald, who might very well be the only member of Allentown City Council who is not a Pawlowski Puppet.

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:27, Severson is no longer in business.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"He is the most honest, honorable, and ethical attorney."

I'm all for cutting Tom Brennan some slack, but let's be honest here. I think the judge called it right. He was naive.

Anonymous said...

He wasnt naive. He got lucky

Bernie O'Hare said...

"I think Fleck is the big culprit in this action. Can he be held accountable in some way, such as civil rights voting supression issue on a minority candidate"

I'm quick to criticize the Fleckster, but he is guilty of nothing more than playing hardball. The people he represents would be adversely affected by a Velez candidacy. He wanted to brush her aside, but there's nothing wrong with hiring a lawyer for that purpose. Besides, her nomination papers were shaky. He did not act unethically.

But Tim Brennan did. He blew it. While i'm willing to accept him at his words that he did not misrepresent who he was, i believe that he should have been more clear because he was dealing with people unaccustomed to lawyers or the political process. That alone is intimidating.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"He wasnt naive. He got lucky'

A good general always leaves a little room for the enemy to escape.

Anonymous said...

Can this decision be appealed? Any word on whether Mr. Fleck and/or Pawlowski will be appealing? Is there any avenue for them to claim that the withdrawal by Velez deprived them of the opportunity to challenge her signatures?

Bernie O'Hare said...

They have no standing and are unable to appeal. The only entity that could do so is Lehigh County's election board, and they are satisfied. The matter is over. Velez is on the ballot.

Anonymous said...

Rememeber, Brennan is tight with Joe Kelly of Bethleehm. They both come out of Bethlehem Solicitor Spirk's stable.

Solictor Spirk works for Johnny Callahan.

Connect all the dots and they always come back to Johnny Casino. He may be prettier than Pawlumpske but every bit as slimy.

Anonymous said...

Yawn.

Just ANOTHER Tax and Spend Democrat.

Yippee.

Facial hair aficionado said...

Benyo's soul patch is killer, can you imagine how that thing tickles a taint?

Anonymous said...

Blumpkin. Hey now.

Anonymous said...

Were is palumpas spanish speaking leasion in all this, selling/renting to his own people unfit housing¿ Don't forget the last clause in fine print, it looks good but said entity is not liable upon signing of the bank note on this unfit hovel¿ Maybe the powers that be will name a school after him or counsil prez poppo, or motto¿

Redd

Anonymous said...

Be at the water debate kim to see way this group has treated your people and all city residence¿ There closed door deals have made the living conditions reprehencable, because of different entities working as one to steal from the nations past and future¿ The loopHole is stealing from the most vulnerable, the elderly and children and the nations childens children with the Brown Hole Law known as the NIZ¿