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Town Loses Lawsuit Over Justice Race

The election for town justice will be for a four-year term, not a three-year term as town officials had hoped.

The candidate elected for town justice this November in Bedford will serve a four-year term, a state supreme court judge has ruled.

A lawsuit brought by the town of Bedford against the Westchester County Board of Elections contended that there was no legal requirement that a vacated town justice position must be filled for a full, four-year term.

Officials hoped the seat vacated by the late Judge Kevin Quaranta would be for an unexpired, three year term which they said benefits candidates by aligning justice elections with other local officials and giving them the support of a local slate.

Bedford Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said the news about the ruling was disappointing. 

"We feel that it makes no sense as far as the way local elections are conducted.  We will now have a lone judicial candidate running in a presidential year election without local running mates on the ticket," she said. "It places an unnecessary burden on the local political parties by having to mobilize for a campaign three years in a row."

Democratic Elections Commissioner Reginald Lafayette—who was in favor of a four-year term because he said the state constitution provided clear guidelines for a four year term—said there was no other way the ruling could have gone.

"The law is the law," he said. "It was crystal clear and I was surprised there was ever a lawsuit to begin with."

In disagreeing with the town—and Republican Elections Commissioner, Douglas Colety, who supported Bedford's plan—Lafayette cited a 1999 case, Munnelly v. Newkirk, where the decision said a constitutional provision "clearly and unambiguously requires that town justices be elected to four-year terms."

In her decision, the Hon. Mary Smith said she agreed with Lafayette. 

Smith went on to say in her decision that although the Munnelly court said "there may at times present justification for departing from the clear and unambiguous language of the constitution," her decision was constrained by the Munnelly precedent and application of constitutional law.

In a letter submitted by town attorney Joel Sachs to Judge Smith, the town has requested a motion for re-argument and reconsideration of the decision, citing Smith's acknowledgement that Munnelly does not "provide a hard and fast rule."

The decision and letter are posted with this story.

What do you think about the decision? Tell us in the comments.

Luke Vander Linden October 10, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Very disappointing. Commissioner Lafayette did not have to challenge Bedford's intent to have a special election for the remainder of the term. He put politics above our Town's home rule resulting in yet additional expenses and burden on our Town and its citizens.
David Cohen October 10, 2012 at 12:18 PM
While I support the concept of filling unexpired terms for the period of the unexpired term, it appears that Mr. Lafayette was correct on the law. Absent the ruling being overturned on appeal (and, it appears - although it is not clear- from the tenor of remarks in the article that the town has no intention of appealing), this will be thw case, unless a change is made to the state constitution. Officials, whether they are judges or legislators or executives, need to understand, and foster smongst their constituencies, a clear understanding that the requirements of the law, however inconvenient, must still be acknowledged. Now, what both parties should do is get all candidates for the State Assembly and the State Senate to state clearly and unambiguously that they will push for an amendment to the state constituion which will rectify this situation.
Donald Diamond October 10, 2012 at 01:12 PM
The description of the motion to reargue and reconsideration indicates that there is no likelihood that it will succeed in changing the decision. Re-argument is only granted when there is a showing that the court overlooked something that will cause a change in the decision. The article states that the Court fully considered Munnelly v. Newkirk when it made its decision. There would be no reason to change the result because that case was fully considered when it denied the Town relief. Parenthetically, there is no appeal from an order denying re-argument. There is no likelihood that the branch of the motion for reconsideration will be granted. That relief is only granted when there is some fact that was not raised in the prior papers submitted to the Court. Again, the description of proceedings resulted in the decision establishes that there is such a clear fact pattern that there is no likelihood of new facts that will result in a change of the decision. In addition to showing that additional facts exist, the Town had to show that it could not have submitted those facts when the matter was before the Court in the underlying proceedings.

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