- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

KEOKUK, Iowa (AP) - The attorney for an ex-felon charged with illegally voting must be allowed to question an aide to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad before the trial begins, a judge ruled Thursday.

Kelli Jo Griffin’s attorney had claimed that Branstad aide Rebecca Elming, a prosecution witness, refused to be deposed last week on the advice of state lawyers. But Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers disputed that Thursday, saying the deposition had not been scheduled.

“Now that a deposition has been requested, we will work with the parties to make Elming available,” he said.

Judge Mary Ann Brown said Griffin had a right to depose Elming before trial, which she delayed from Thursday until March 19 due to an attorney’s illness.

Griffin is accused of lying on a registration form when she attested that she was not an ineligible felon before she voted in a Nov. 5 municipal election in Montrose, a southeastern Iowa town with a population of 878.

Prosecutors say Branstad had not restored Griffin’s voting rights after she was convicted in 2008 in Henry County of delivering less than 100 grams of cocaine. To gain a conviction, they will have to prove that she knew she did not have voting rights, which could be a challenge given widespread confusion about Iowa’s policies.

Prosecutors conceded Wednesday that Griffin’s parole officer would not testify that Griffin had been informed that she was ineligible. Lee County Attorney Michael Short said in an interview last month he believed the officer had warned Griffin, which would undercut any claim that she was confused.

Griffin, 40, faces a minimum prison sentence of three years if convicted since she was charged as a habitual offender.

Iowa is one of four states where former offenders have to apply to the governor to get their rights back after completing sentences. Branstad reinstated the application requirement on his first day in office in 2011, requiring former offenders to pay restitution and court costs before they become eligible.

From July 2005 until 2011, ex-felons automatically regained their voting rights once they left state supervision.

The policy changes - and inaccuracies in the Secretary of State’s list of ineligible felons - has made it difficult for some former offenders to know whether they can vote. Nonetheless, a two-year criminal investigation championed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz has led to charges against several ex-felons for allegedly voting illegally.

Former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack had restored Griffin’s voting rights in 2004 after an earlier conviction.

Elming, an assistant to Branstad’s chief of staff, had been listed as a prosecution witness in Griffin’s case last month. Her duties include maintaining records related to executive clemency decisions, including the restoration of voting rights.

Griffin’s attorney, Curtis Dial, said last week that Elming was declining to be deposed in person or by phone on the advice of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General’s spokesman Geoff Greenwood denied that Thursday, saying Elming was never instructed to avoid a deposition.

Dial argued that Elming’s testimony should be excluded from trial while the prosecutor, Short, proposed that Elming be allowed to testify through an affidavit rather than live. In the affidavit, Elming says she “performed a diligent search” of records and found nothing to indicate that Griffin’s rights had been restored.

Brown said she would issue a written ruling Thursday.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide