Appeals court reverses dismissal of challenge by Natal

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a lower court ruling that had dismissed the challenge presented by Manuel Natal Albelo, a candidate for San Juan mayor under the Citizen Victory Movement banner, against San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo, for lack of jurisdiction.

“Victory! The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling dismissing the challenge against the election of the Mayor of San Juan,” Natal said via Twitter. “Despite his attempts to hide, the Court confirmed that we correctly summoned Miguel Romero. Now the case returns to Superior Court so that all the irregularities of Unit 77 can finally be evaluated.”

“As Romero did not answer within the term established in the Electoral Code, our challenge is taken for granted,” Natal said. “The people of San Juan will have the answers they deserve!”

On Jan. 14, Natal challenged Romero’s election as mayor of San Juan last November citing alleged irregularities in Unit 77 that he said could change the results of the election.

The State Elections Commission certification of the voting for the office of San Juan mayor indicates that Romero defeated Natal by 3,465 votes, but Natal in his lawsuit had argued that there are “at least 6,593 municipal ballots from Unit 77 that are illegal and whose voters, chain of custody and provenance are impossible to determine …”

“This extraordinary number of illegal ballots and excess votes, by itself, and in conjunction with the other irregularities detailed in this appeal, are enough to change the outcome of the election,” the lawsuit said. “It is a surplus of ballots whose appearance and adjudication, even after the general scrutiny, remain mysterious and indecipherable.”

The Superior Court dismissed the suit arguing that Romero had not been served as established by law, and for that reason, the court lacked jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals disagreed.

The middle court judges noted that the file before their consideration showed that, on Jan. 17, 2021, that is, two days after the presentation of the brief called Election Challenge, a representative of Natal delivered the order to show cause and the brief of the challenge, together with its annexes, to Romero, as well as a form titled Diligence. The documents warned Romero of certain deadlines and warned that if he did not reply, a ruling could be handed down in his absence.

“By virtue of the arguments expressed, we overturned the appeal sentence,” the 18-page appeals opinion said. “As a consequence, we return the case to the Superior Court so the process can continue using the arguments compatible with this ruling.”

Romero, meanwhile, said “we will be asking the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to review and overturn the erroneous 2-1 ruling of the Appeals Court panel and to uphold the arguments of the Superior Court dismissing the challenge to the San Juan election.”

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