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Congressional Lawyers File Brief Supporting Dornan's Subpoenas

Politics: Leading Democrats blast document authorized by GOP majority on panel looking into Rep. Loretta Sanchez's narrow victory.

September 09, 1997|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The general counsel's office of the House of Representatives has filed a legal brief supporting former Rep. Robert K. Dornan in a tug-of-war over subpoenas concerning his challenge to last fall's election.

But leading Democrats responded with a letter opposing the action.

The back-and-forth on a fairly arcane, technical point in the ongoing investigation into alleged voting by noncitizens follows the partisan divide that has characterized the entire dispute. Though signed by the "bipartisan legal advisory group" of the House, the brief was authorized by the three Republicans on the five-member panel; the two Democrats soon scrawled a letter outlining their dissent.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) called the House Oversight Committee's investigation into Rep. Loretta Sanchez's 979-vote victory over the Garden Grove Republican an "outrage." They also criticized the subpoena process and renewed their call for immediate dismissal of Dornan's complaint.

"From the outset, the committee's process has lacked basic fairness," they wrote in a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who voted along with fellow GOP leaders Richard Armey (R-Texas) and Thomas DeLay (R-Texas) to send the brief to the court Friday.

"More than nine months after this election contest began, Mr. Dornan's contentions have come to naught," Gephardt and Bonior noted. "Yet Congresswoman Sanchez, her constituents, and the innocent third parties that Mr. Dornan dragged into this dispute remain hostages to a process that has proven neither fair nor efficient--and has cost the American taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars."

In the brief, attorneys for the House defend the process by which Dornan filed dozens of subpoenas requesting documents or testimony regarding whether recent immigrants voted in the November contest before they became citizens. They say that Sanchez and Hermandad Nacional, the civil rights group accused of illegally registering noncitizens to vote, are threatening the integrity of the 1969 Federal Contested Elections Act by challenging the oversight committee's authority to administer the subpoenas.

Portions of the arguments by Sanchez and Hermandad are "simply mystifying," while others "border on the absurd," according to the 30-page brief. Noting that the oversight committee has quashed seven subpoenas and ruled that seven more need not be complied with and has five more under discussion, the lawyers wrote that the "record does not support the conclusion that subpoena recipients are being deprived of 'due process.'

"If anything," they say, "it appears there has been an abundance of process."

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