ROCHESTER — The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed a May 20 Supreme Court decision that invalidated Cattaraugus County Independence Party authorizations for more than 80 candidates.
Five Appellate justices heard oral arguments Thursday morning in the appeal of the decision on the lawsuit that challenged the authorization of Donna Vickman to run for a councilman vacancy in Farmersville. The suit was filed by Sondra Augostini of Olean and ruled on by State Supreme Court Judge Dennis E. Ward.
After the appeal was heard, a three-page ruling was issued hours later. The justices said as a resident of Olean, Augostini had no standing to bring a lawsuit over the authorization of a candidate for the Farmersville Town Board.
The judges also wrote that since Augostini’s lawsuit was only served on three individuals — Augostini, the Independence party secretary and Vickman — she lacked the basis to challenge other candidates authorization.
Vickman had been authorized to run on the Independence Party line at a March 2 meeting. Augostini pointed out that Vickman was authorized to run more than two weeks before a vacancy existed.
Because the authorization for Vickman, was part of the Independence Party authorization of 81 candidates — mostly Republicans — Augostini’s lawsuit sought to invalidate those candidates as well. A Republican, Vickman currently serves as majority leader of the Cattaraugus County Legislature. Her term is up at the end of the year and she cannot run for the post again.
Unless Augostini appeals the unanimous decision to the Vickman challenge and is successful, the appellate decision also means there will be a primary for the Farmersville Town Board vacancy. Dale Scurr, an Independence Party member, previously filed nominating petitions for the seat left vacant by the resignation of Andrew J. Warner.
Augostini’s attorney, Ed Sundquist, said no decision had been made whether to appeal the Appellate ruling.
Contacted by the Olean Times Herald after Thursday’s appellate decision, Vickman said she was “very happy. I feel exonerated because I didn’t do anything. As far as A.J. resigning is concerned, it was a known fact he was going to resign.”
Vickman said the lawsuit and appeals cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. “It’s a real shame,” she commented.
Attorney Ginger Schroder, who is a candidate for Cattaraugus County Legislature, and co-counsel for Independence party candidates with Eric Firkel, spoke to the justices on behalf of Vickman and the Independence Party candidates, including herself.
“It’s a resounding victory for the responding candidates,” Schroder said after the decision was announced by the Appellate Division. “Thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a ridiculous objection that the Democrats were behind.”
Cattaraugus County Democratic Chairman Frank Puglisi said the lawsuit was brought by a member of the Independence Party.
Also, he said, “The ruling does not mention the fraud the Conservative Party secretary testified to during the hearing before Judge Ward. I don’t think it matters who pointed out fraud.”
There should be a criminal complaint filed. There needs to be a further investigation,” he said.
Puglisi said, “The people who cost taxpayers money were the Conservatives and Independence parties for filing documents that were not properly done.”
Puglisi said if County Attorney Thomas Brady had represented the Board of Elections, the lawsuits would not have cost taxpayers anything. Former Republican Election commissioner Michael Brisky had written an email April 18 urging candidates to call Brady to urge special counsel for both election commissioners, Puglisi said.
Democratic Election Commissioner Kevin Burleson and his Republican counterpart, Cortney Spittler, were represented by separate counsel because they did not agree on all the issues involved in the lawsuits.
Jerome Schad represented Burleson and Ralph Mohr represented Spittler.
A similar ruling by in an accompanying lawsuit over the Conservative Party authorization of Vickman went unchallenged. That decision did not involve removing all Conservative Party authorizations, which similarly went mostly to Republicans.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)