Pike County Verdict Upholds the Importance of a Proper Election Process

Jun 3, 2016

Gregory D. Malaska, Esq. | Young & Haros, LLC

One of CAI’s goals, both nationally and locally, is to improve the operation of our constituent community associations.  This effort has several core components, three of which are transparency, accountability, and fairness.  Association members work hard for their money and associations have a duty to ensure that the owners’ assessments fund an ethical, efficient operation. CAI’s Rights and Responsibilities promote this mandate.

Successful communities (and their volunteers and staff) recognize that in order to thrive and succeed, associations must operate in the open, take responsibility for their actions, and treat everyone in a fair, reasonable manner.  A recent case in Pike County reinforced the importance of these principles.

On May 24, two men were convicted by a Pike County jury of planning to fix a board election in a planned community.  The convictions were tied to the 2014 Board of Directors election in Wild Acres Lakes planned community near Milford. Myron Cowher, the then-Board Secretary, was convicted of numerous counts relating to forgery, identity theft, criminal attempt, conspiracy, tampering with records, and criminal use of a communication facility.  Dmitry Kupershmidt, the then-Chairman of the Board, was convicted of multiple counts of criminal attempt and conspiracy. Cowher filled out several ballots in person and took the remainder home to be filled out at a later time.  PSP officers arrested Cowher after the meeting.

In May of 2014, an employee of the Association contacted the Pike County District Attorney’s office about a possible plan to fraudulently complete and submit ballots in the upcoming Board election.  According to reports, Cowher directed the employee to select those ballots to be sent to owners of vacant lots, because they rarely voted in elections.  A meeting then took place between Cowher and the employee that was monitored by the Pennsylvania State Police.  During that meeting, reports from the trial detail testimony that Kupershmidt had suggested to the employee that the security cameras be turned off to conceal the activity.

The four-day trial led to a jury verdict within six hours.  The two men are set to be sentenced on August 4, yet were taken into immediate custody after the trial.

This is the first criminal prosecution of volunteers in a planned community and hopefully will serve as a deterrent to similar schemes in the future.  A community’s declaration, bylaws, rules and regulations, and state law should be the sole basis upon which elections are managed.  These guidelines should be strictly construed and the association should take additional steps to document its efforts to ensure a fair and impartial election.  

What else can associations learn from this unfortunate episode?

First, Board elections are the lifeblood of the democratic process in a community.  They must be treated with the utmost respect and handled in a transparent manner that ensures a level playing field for all candidates. Diverse unit owners will have diverse viewpoints on issues; that’s a good thing.  Elections should be run in a manner that allows candidates the opportunity to share those view and allows the members to decide.

Second, this case solidifies the need for accountability and diligent monitoring of elections.  Communities should strive to develop internal controls that minimize the potential for deceptive actions that adversely impact certain candidates and ultimately, impact all unit owners.  The integrity of the process cannot be compromised and communities should be proactive in implementing methods to ensure a proper and fair management of
the balloting process.  Ideas such as offsite judges of elections or electronic voting can only help to level the playing field.

This case should serve as a call to arms for all associations to challenge themselves to make their election processes better and to work to prevent attempts to intentionally manipulate the process.  

For more information, please contact Gregory D. Malaska, Esq. at gmalaska@eastpennlaw.com | www.eastpennlaw.com | 570.424.9800

                  


 


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