ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins Democrats are firing back at Independence District Attorney nominee Ed Kopko after he filed a lawsuit against them Friday, claiming that they improperly nominated Matt Van Houten for DA.

“I don’t think I want to go into the details at this point but…I don’t think there’s any merit to any of his charges,” said Irene Stein, chair of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, one of the organizations the lawsuit lists its complaints against.

She said that she was surprised by the lawsuit and that she wished Kokpo would show “some grace” about losing the nomination.

Van Houten said he was disappointed in Kopko’s behavior, and that Kopko was being “disingenuous and dishonest” about the motives behind his lawsuit.

“…Ed was a member of the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, participated in that process, voted in the election and never raised an objection to the process until it didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to,” Van Houten said.

During a meeting Sept. 15, the democratic committee hosted a vote in which Van Houten beat out Kopko and Acting District Attorney Andrew Bonavia for the nomination. A primary was not held because former District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson resigned from her post July 8 due to an ongoing illness.

Kopko’s lawsuit, however, states that the day of her resignation was strategically planned to disenfranchise the public and allow cronies on the committee to vote in a candidate of their choosing. The last day anyone could have applied to run for the position with the expectation that there would be a primary would have been July 7 — one day before Wilkinson officially resigned.

Bonavia, who ran with Wilkinson’s support, stated during a public Q&A that the timing was coincidental and at the end of a pay period. Wilkinson previously said that in seven months, she’d been hospitalized seven times and had to call it quits.

Bonavia said after his loss that he is not running for DA with another party, nor is he running as a write-in candidate.

Van Houten went on to say that if anyone is trying to make an attempt to disenfranchise voters, it’s Kopko. In a worst case scenario for Van Houten, a judge could rule that Kopko’s complaints are valid, and that the committee improperly nominated him. This would bump his name off the ballot, and because no other party has nominated a DA candidate, leave Kopko as the only person listed as running for DA.

Van Houten did address some of the specifics from the lawsuit, as well.

Related: Tompkins District Attorney candidate sues Democrats

He said that it was made clear to the committee well in advance and during the actual voting process that proxy votes — votes by members who could not attend the meeting — were going to be counted. Kopko contested that the proxies had to be formally voted upon and seconded, which was not done during the meeting.

“I think the point is not to make it so strict, but to have general fairness,” Van Houten said. “It should stand. He’s trying to get it thrown out on a technicality.”

Van Houten also said that there are ways to formally add members to the committee, even if they are brought on in even numbered years. While he is not a member of the Democratic Committee and cannot attest to whether that happened to the 12 people Kopko says ineligibly voted for DA, Van Houten did say that he trusts the committee to have done its due diligence in the matter.

The Supreme Court of New York, which is where the lawsuit was filed, generally makes time to oversee election law cases and complaints during election years, a source said. So whether Van Houten will be on the ballot is up in the air.

But Van Houten said even if he is kicked off the ballot, he wants voters to know one thing: he’s stilling running, even if he has to do so as a write-in candidate.

Related: Tompkins DA candidate: DA needs community presence, ‘think outside the box’ about drug treatment

Related: Tompkins DA candidate: 30+ years of law experience; talks Ithaca Plan, wrongful convictions

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.