With Primary Elections Come Legal Challenges

BY JOEL GROSSBARTH

The great American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote the common phrase that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” With all due respect to Mr. Franklin, a third certainty has arisen. That is, when people run for elected offices, there will be legal challenges.

This past week, the Appellate Division, Second Department decided three cases involving Rockland primary elections. The cases involve the races for Clarkstown Town Judge, Spring Valley Trustee and Rockland County Legislator for the Eighth Legislative District. Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature passed certain election reforms which included moving the primary elections from early September to June 25, 2019.

In Clarkstown, sitting Judge David Ascher attempted to invalidate petitions filed by Larraine Feiden for the nomination as Democratic candidate for Town Justice. Larraine Feiden is seeking to become the first woman elected as town judge in Clarkstown history. Ascher claimed that certain signature on Ms. Feiden’s petitions were printed rather than signed, which violated New York State Election Law. At the hearing before Supreme Court Judge Lawrence Ecker, Feiden was given the opportunity to submit affidavits from the voters in question attesting to their identity. After Ms. Feiden submitted the affidavits, Ascher objected to the notarization by the candidate. The appeals Court upheld Judge Ecker’s acceptance of the Affidavits into evidence finding that Ms. Feiden’s petitions contained a valid number of signatures for her name to appear on the Democratic primary ballot and perhaps become the first woman judge in Clarkstown history. Ms. Feiden has a long career as a private practitioner, Assistant County Attorney for Rockland, current President of Rockland County Women’s Bar Association and also a community leader spearheading grass root movements to decrease class sizes in Clarkstown.

The other cases stem from Spring Valley. In the race for Trustee in Spring Valley, former trustee Vilair Fonvil is back in the news. While appealing his conviction that removed him from office, Fonvil sought to invalidate the petitions for three candidates for Village trustee. At the initial court hearing, Fonvil admitted that he notarized the affidavits of service required by the court. The court dismissed Fonvil’s case. The appeals court held that unlike the Clarkstown case where a candidate notarized affidavits on a designating petition, a party to a legal proceeding may not notarize the affidavits of service which confer jurisdiction on the Court. The appeals court affirmed the ruling declaring Fonvil’s proceeding to be a legal nullity.

Another Spring Valley lawsuit sought to invalidate petitions filed by Rudolph Schneider Laurant, Sr. as a candidate for the Democratic line for County Legislature. After filing of the legal papers, the Supreme Court gave the petitioner several methods of service that needed to be accomplished within a certain timeframe. At the hearing, it was determined that the legal papers were not properly served on the candidate as required by the Court and the lawsuit was dismissed.

The unfortunate part of the legal challenges made every year by candidates is that certain voters become disenfranchised. Please go out and vote for the candidates you want to see lead your community.