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Tense Moments Precede Yet Another Hobbs Election Lawsuit Hearing

Tuesday morning, the crush of people who filled the hallway outside the last courtroom on the sixth floor of the Shasta County Courthouse resembled sports fans clamoring toward the entrance to ensure snagging the best seats inside.

Election-denier Laura Hobbs was the star player, along with her election-denier top-shelf lawyer, Alex Haberbush. This was Hobbs’ third hearing about her lawsuit in less than one month. Hobbs’ most recent hearing was May 29, which followed the May 20 hearing.

“We love you, Laura!” and “Good luck, Laura!” gushed four beaming women seated on benches waiting for the morning’s hearing to begin, as Hobbs and Haberbush walked by.

Within the waiting crowd were several familiar faces of far-right, vocal local characters who’ve pushed back hard in frustration against Shasta County election results since 2020 when former President Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden. Many who gathered in the hallway are such passionate Trump supporters that if asked to name the United States’ president, many would say “Trump” and parrot Trump’s Big-Lie belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

That collective mindset was at the heart of the Hobbs vs. Long, et al lawsuit in which Hobbs alleges that the March 2024 Shasta County election was botched, which resulted in Hobbs’ loss in her District 2 Supervisor race. Hobbs contends that the razor-slim margin that anointed District 2 candidate Allen Long as the clear, unchallenged winner was flawed. Her lawsuit seeks her name on the November ballot for a run-off against Long.

A glance across the crowd in the packed hallway determined that perhaps less than a handful of people weren’t there to support Hobbs.

Conversely, across the street at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors meeting happening that very moment, several speakers lined up to beseech supervisors to select Assistant County Clerk/Registrar of Voters Francescut as the county’s permanent ROV.

Meanwhile, back inside the courthouse for Hobbs’ hearing, this was not a Francescut lovefest. In fact, quite the opposite.

Court was running late due to some manner of earlier drama in Judge Stephen Baker’s courtroom from a prior case that necessitated in a delay before the Hobbs case could begin.

Outside the courtroom, with each minute that passed, the temperature and some tempers rose.

“STOP touching me!” hollered Kimberly Moore, dressed in a gray skirt suit for her upcoming time as a witness in support of Hobbs. She’d yelled those words to 82-year-old Frank Treadway, who stood directly behind Moore. As Moore shouted, Treadway pulled his arms as far back and behind him as physically possible in the space that contained nearly 50 people, all waiting to enter the courtroom.

Frank Treadway, in the straw hat, pulls his arms back to avoid touching Kim Moore, in gray.

Treadway is a long-time progressive community activist who’s been an unabashed champion for the recently retired Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen, and her protegee and interim ROV, Joanna Francescut.

At the peak of the hallway conflict, four Shasta County Sheriff’s deputies suddenly appeared to quiet the masses. They encouraged people to get along, and suggested they remember they’re all Americans, inside a courthouse. When one deputy asked the group if there had been problems, Moore raised her hand, pointed to Treadway, and said he’d touched her.

The deputy motioned for Treadway follow him.

Later, Treadway shared that once he’d been singled out for a scolding, he’d explained to the deputy that he hadn’t meant to touch Moore, but if he had, it was unintentional, due to the large number of people contained in a relatively small area.

Just about the time the doors began to open, Treadway was allowed to return.

Men, women, and even a few children rushed in and found seats, with nary a spare remaining opening on any of the wood benches.

Francescut and her attorney, Christopher Pisano of Best Best & Krieger sat at the left-hand table. Haberbush, of the Long-Beach based Lex Rex Institute, along with Hobbs and a Haberbush assistant, sat at the right-hand table.

Judge Baker opened the hearing by laying down his strict ground rules. Apparently, word of the recent hallway kerfuffle had reached Baker, which he addressed immediately. He acknowledged that emotions and interest in the Hobbs case were elevated, but said he wouldn’t tolerate any misbehaving inside his courtroom. Baker said he expected dignified, peaceful proceedings, a place where witnesses would not be intimidated. Baker said that anyone in the courtroom who so much as rolled their eyes, or even nodded or shook their heads, would be banished from the courtroom. No T-shirts with pointed messages would be permitted. Men should remove hats inside the court chambers. Even media who’d received prior court approval were not allowed to record any audio; just still photos and silent video. And when Haberbush requested an audio recording of the hearings, Judge Baker said no.

Throughout the day’s hearing that ended around 4:30 p.m., a relentless Haberbush was on the offence, which left attorney Pisano playing defense. Haberbush often spoke so quickly that he was cautioned several times to slow down so the court reporter could keep up. Hobbs’ Shasta County case is such a big deal in the Lex Rex organization that its website features a post titled, Election Challenge in Shasta County!

Haberbush informed the court that he’d be calling multiple witnesses, including some elections department workers and election observers. Haberbush also said that his evidence would include 42 potential exhibits, including so many Excel spreadsheets that if printed out, would amount to approximately 20,000 pages.

The crux of Haberbush’s allegations centered on whether any alleged elections department irregularities and instances of misconduct were “result-sufficient” errors. In other words, could it be shown that if those errors hadn’t happened, would Hobbs’ election outcome been different, in her favor?

Pisano discussed Hobbs’ allegations of election department malconduct, irregularities and mistakes. He asserted that the word “malconduct” is about dishonesty.

“Were they out to get Ms. Hobbs?” Pisano asked hypothetically of the elections department staff with regard to Hobbs. “No.”

Pisano said the elections office employees had already admitted to using the wrong “alpha draw” – and pointed out that the unintentional error went across all election races; not just Hobbs’.

The term “alpha draw” was mentioned repeatedly throughout the hearing. Basically, the alpha draw is a randomized sampling system that uses letters of the alphabet to determine where candidates’ names will appear on the ballot. Hobbs’ lawsuit latched onto allegations of mistakes with the alpha draw because her name was listed last on the ballot for the the District 2 candidates, while Long’s name was at the top, which was noteworthy because Long won the race.

According to Francescut, there are two kinds of alpha draws; one local and one from the Secretary of State’s office, which are similar, but vary slightly, and used in a counterintuitive way: The Secretary of State’s alpha draw is used in local elections, and the local alpha draw is used in state elections.

Francescut explained that while the alpha draw is not a complicated procedure, per se, it’s sometimes difficult for some people to grasp, as it is contrary to how some people think the process should go. The ROV’s office did use an alpha draw system, but incorrectly used the local alpha draw, not the Secretary of State’s.

She described a rather simple alpha draw system that uses 26 small empty film cartridges, and how into each one is inserted one letter of the alphabet, and then how the small canisters are hand-selected randomly, and how the contents of those 26 containers are recorded to determine the order in which candidates’ names will appear on the ballot.

Pisano noted that the alleged irregularities with the March primary election could have been laid to rest with a recount, something Hobbs initially started, but ultimately backed out of.

That led to Pisano’s observation that it was “telling” that Hobbs’ lawsuit did not include a request for a recount.

Following an afternoon break, Haberbush was ready to begin questioning his witnesses, starting with Francescut, who was subsequently sworn in, and took her place at the witness stand.

Joanna Francescut, Assistant Shasta County Clerk/Registrar of Voters.

But before Francescut was asked a single question, Haberbush abruptly asked permission from Judge Baker to switch the order of witnesses, so Supervisor Patrick Jones could go first, as Jones had a tight schedule.

No doubt the schedule in question referred to the fact that Jones had left his paid post on the dais across the street at the Shasta County Board of Supervisors morning meeting to attend Hobbs’ hearing.

Center, District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones chats with his wife and other Hobbs’ supporters in the hallway outside the designated courtroom. In the background, wearing a cobalt blue shirt, Ken Michaud, who’s been vocal about his interest in becoming the next ROV, looks on.

Supervisor Jones or Citizen Jones?

District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones left the Board of Supervisors meeting in progress across the street at the county administration building to attend the Hobbs hearing at the courthouse where he was questioned by Hobbs’ attorney Alex Haberbush.

Judge Baker asked Francescut to return to her seat, and Jones was then sworn in for Haberbush’s questions. When Judge Baker asked Jones whether he was there as Jones the supervisor or Jones the citizen, Jones replied that he was there as Jones the citizen. Even so, one of Haberbush’s first questions pertained to a Record Searchlight story that quoted Supervisor Jones. Pisano objected on grounds of hearsay, and the judge agreed, so the newspaper “evidence” was not allowed. Citizen Jones also mentioned how “we” supervisors did away with the county’s former Dominion voting system as a way to better “control the county’s purse strings”.

Jones said he’d worked as an observer of the March 2024 election, specifically, the Kevin Crye recall race. Just before Jones left the witness stand, he asked the judge if he could make a statement, to which Baker said, no, Jones could not make a statement.

Francescut under fire

The rest of the afternoon consisted of Haberbush grilling Francescut, often circling back to repeat earlier questions, which resulted in Pisano’s protests of “asked and answered”.

By the day’s end, Pisano had issued more than a dozen objections, some of which were overruled by Judge Baker.

“Incomplete, hypothetical and vague,” countered Pisano to some Haberbush questions.

Haberbush drilled deep and asked Francescut about her history with the ROV’s office, starting as an analyst in 2008, her everyday operational duties, who was responsible for what, names of specific staff members, how ballots were proofed, who proofed the ballots when, the recollection of exact dates and her educational background.

Several of Haberbush’s questions focused on the absent ROV, such as how often Darling Allen was in contact with the ROV’s office after she took a medical leave of absence, and how many times did Darling Allen come to the office during that time, and how many times did Darling Allen speak with Francescut on the phone.

As Francescut answered questions — which sometimes included “I don’t know” — it became apparent that Francescut’s work life “changed drastically” when her boss, former ROV Darling Allen, took a medical leave of absence, which left Francescut in charge of everything.

The trajectory was apparent: Darling Allen developed sudden heart failure, which many speculate was caused by exposure to considerable ongoing stress, including death threats, for more than four years.

Authur Gorman, now a member of Shasta County Office of Education board, confronts Registrar of Voters Cathy Darling Allen behind the elections building on June 7, 2020. Photo by Doni Chamberlain.

Rather than stay and let her job kill her, Darling Allen stepped away from her work and took a medical leave of absence. Francescut took the reins of the elections department, and somehow tackled her work, and Darling Allen’s too.

Haberbush called into question Francescut’s handling of the March election in particular. Among the terms Haberbush used to critique Francescut were “willful negligence, degrees of culpability,” and “malconduct.”

When a long period of time had passed with Haberbush still asking Francescut about the alpha draw, Judge Baker broke in and redirected the hearing.

“I think you’ve picked this tree clean,” Baker said of the alpha draw topic, a statement that brought chuckles from the audience.

After than, Haberbush moved on to the subject of audit logs, illustrated by an image with columns of impossible-to-read text and numbers.

Haberbush droned on about audit logs for some time, to the point where Judge Baker voiced what many in the audience may have been thinking.

“It’s not meaningful to me,” Judge Baker said. “It’s a bunch of numbers … I’m the one trying to make sense of this, and it means nothing to me.”

Pisano piled on and countered with “strike, speculation,” and said the document “lacked foundation”.

Haberbush said he’d like to question Darling Allen as a witness, to which Francescut replied that Darling Allen was in poor health, and probably unable to testify.

Haberbush replied that he’d subpoena Darling Allen to testify, to which Judge Baker said there was no point, since the hearing would most likely wrap up the following day.

Finally, Judge Baker put everyone out of their misery, called it a day and said the hearing would reconvene the next day at 9 a.m.

Leaving the courtroom, one of Hobbs’ supporters summarized the hearing’s last hours: “Well, that was dry.”

Meanwhile, the Shasta County Board majority – Jones, Crye and District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom –crafted and disseminated a press release that was clearly biased against the ROV’s office and staff members.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert and District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman declined to sign or approve the letter.

The statement said:

“The Registrar of Voters made an error by not using the California Secretary of State’s randomized alphabet; as a result, the order names were listed on the ballot was not correct. California law specifies this requirement to randomly place names on the ballot to not afford any advantage to a specific candidate; instead, the name placement is essentially a lottery process.

The Board majority believes this may have affected the election outcome and may have harmed those placed on the ballot.

Nonetheless, the court is the trier of fact and will ultimately make the determination in this case.”

Francescut’s good deeds will be punished

Los Tres Pendejos: Supervisors Patrick Jones, Kevin Crye and Chris Kelstrom.

Once again, despite the Shasta County Board of Supervisors’ supposed non-partisan status, this board majority has not just commented on politics, and not just manipulated politics from the dais via their positions of power, but the three men have now wormed their way in to the process of turning the public against Francescut to ensure she will not be the county’s ROV.

Perhaps Hobbs’ lawsuit is a Trojan horse, ostensibly about Hobbs’ desire to participate in a November run-off against District 2 winner Allen Long.

Note the public beating Joanna is taking as the scapegoat responsible for every single misstep that’s occurred at the elections office, especially since Darling Allen stepped down. Never mind that Francescut held down the fort, and assumed her departed leader’s duties, heaped on top of Francescut’s already challenging existing workload. Never mind that Francescut kept things running after her mentor was basically targeted for destruction by the extremists. Once Darling Allen left her post due to heart failure, now Hobbs, Haberbush and their complicit board majority are placing all the blame at Francescut’s feet. Perhaps Hobbs’ lawsuit’s true goal is to make Francescut look so inept and undesirable on the witness stand that the board majority could make the case that she’s a poor ROV choice.

That would open the door for the board majority to select yet another unqualified, inexperienced, sub-par, extremist individual for arguably one of the most crucial positions in the county.

The writing’s on the North State’s crumbling wall in indelible ink. According to Laura Hobbs on Terry Rapoza’s ‘Jefferson State of Mine’ radio show Sunday, Clint Curtis and Michael Gableman are among the ROV applicants. We may never know who provided Hobbs with the list of ROV applicants that hasn’t been made public yet.

Just another day in Shasta County, where unscrupulous, self-serving, self-promoting, crooked men keep dirty secrets as they continue destroying what’s left of this place we call home.

Today, 9 a.m. on the sixth floor of the Shasta County Courthouse, we’ll have some answers to some — not all — questions.  In fact, no doubt we’ll probably end up with yet more questions that lack yet more answers.

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Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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