ITHACA, N.Y. — In a swift move by the Supreme Court State of New York, a judge ruled Thursday afternoon that a lawsuit filed against Tompkins County Democrats, regarding a recent vote for the party’s District Attorney nominee, was invalid.
Attorney Matt Van Houten, who beat out candidates attorney Ed Kopko and Acting District Attorney Andrew Bonavia for the nomination, will be on the ballot in November.
“I’m very pleased,” said Irene Stein, char of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. “I said also that I thought none of the objections were valid.”
In a lawsuit filed last Friday, Kopko listed a multitude of reasons why the vote should be overturned, his biggest points being that the committee allowed non-members to vote, improperly included proxy votes and did not have a proper quorum.
Van Houten, the Tompkins County Democratic Committee and the Tompkins County Board of Elections were all listed in the lawsuit.
Supreme Court Justice Eugene D. Faughnan said about the vote, “I understand there were flaws. There were a number of flaws.”
But he asked, “Does any of that change the outcome, I guess?”
After hearing arguments from Ray Schlather, who represented the Democrats, and Robert Clune, who represented Kopko, Faughnan addressed the major points in the case.
For the non-members voting, the issue at hand was simply lack of evidence.
All parties agreed that 12 people voting were not registered with the board of elections. However, the committee bylaws allow for the addition of members by alternate means, which is legal. The Democrats were unable to provide proof that the 12 people had alternately been added to the committee. But because Kopko is the one filing the complaint, it was his burden to prove that the 12 people hadn’t been added, which he did not do.
The counting of about 40 proxy votes was also deemed a non-issue, this time because of the interpretation the wording in the committee bylaws and handbook.
Bylaws indicate that proxy votes can be counted in a contested election or for agenda items so long as there is a vote and a person seconds the vote.
In the meeting, there was no call to formally accept the votes, though committee members and candidates were made aware that the proxies would be counted.
But Faughnan said the vote is only necessary for agenda items, not for contested elections. So the fact that there was no vote to formally accept proxies doesn’t matter.
With the proxies back on the table, the judge ruled that the committee did in fact have a quorum to vote for a candidate.
“The court does find that Mr. Van Houten is the properly nominated candidate for District Attorney… the petition is denied,” Faughnan said.
“That validates what I said before, that this was a fair process,” Van Houten said after the decision, eager to move on from the lawsuit. “I want to focus on the issues…that’s what the election is about. ”
Kopko said he is appealing the decision, and despite the ruling, he said he doesn’t take the defeat as a total loss.
“The public has already won because this is how you do the public’s business — with people knowing what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t feel the least bit disappointed.”