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Hoehmann Appeals to Second Department Hoping To End Term Limits; Decision Expected After May 10
By Tina Traster
Have you heard the Chinese proverb that goes something like “the flapping of the wings of a butterfly can be felt on the other side of the world?” Or, in less prosaic terms, one action is capable of generating large changes elsewhere, positive or not.
Let’s begin with Clarkstown Town Supervisor George Hoehmann and his irrepressible desire to hold onto his job even though the town has term limits that prevent an elected office holder from serving more than eight consecutive years in the same position. The proverbial butterfly wing flapped when the Supervisor put in motion a plan to scrap term limits. For more than six months, this endeavor has been the source of constant litigation, chaos, lingering uncertainty, and bad blood in the town and throughout the county.
“It was clear from the beginning that Supervisor Hoehmann was not eligible to run for office for Supervisor,” Sweet said.
It’s not easy to keep score but let’s start with Rockland County Supreme Court Justice Amy Puerto’s latest ruling on Friday, which bolstered her two earlier rulings, and again declared Hoehmann ineligible to run for Town Supervisor and struck his name from being on the ballot for the June 27, 2023 primary.
Justin Sweet, Clarktown’s town clerk and candidate for Town Supervisor on the Democratic ticket, had filed lawsuit on April 19 requesting Hoehmann’s designating petition be declared “null and void.”
The Judge echoed her earlier decision. “The determination on the term limit legislation was made on March 15, 2023,” wrote Puerto. “That the respondent/candidate has filed an appeal with the Second Department does not mean that the term limit legislation is still in question or that a determination has not been made. . . It merely means [that George Hoehmann] is unsatisfied with the court’s decision and is hoping for a different outcome on appeal.”
Sweet applauded Puerto’s decision.
“It was clear from the beginning that Supervisor Hoehmann was not eligible to run for office for Supervisor,” he said. “I’m happy Judge Puerto upheld the law. It’s unfortunate that Supervisor Hoehmann is unwilling to accept the consequences of the law he advocated for eight years ago.”
Rockland County Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey, who is an attorney in private practice and also holds a part-time job with Rockland Green (former Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority), represented Hoehmann in the most recent case. And Garvey, who lined himself up separately as a placeholder on the ballot in case Hoehmann’s appeal failed, was also embroiled in two other election-related lawsuits, but we will return to that in a moment.
George Hoehmann Appeals Adverse Rulings
Last week, Hoehmann filed an appeal with the Appellate Division, Second Department. His argument is that the failure to hold a referendum on the term limit legislation rendered it invalid. Because this issue is related to the fast-approaching primary, the Appellate Court has indicated it will rule on the appeal by May 10.
Hoehmann’s legal counsel Robert Spolzino reprised the arguments he unsuccessfully put forth in the lower courts. In the appellate brief, Spolzino claims Clarkstown never had a term limits law in place because it would have needed to be passed by a public referendum. He argued that a public referendum is required whenever a town requires a repeal by supermajority. He also argues there is no statute of limitations that would bar a challenge to the law.
Court Declares January Repeal By 3-2 Vote Invalid
In addition to Hoehmann’s challenge on term limits in court, the town in a 3-2 vote in January voted to repeal the term limits law even though the town code required a four-vote supermajority to repeal the law. This forced Councilmembers Patrick Carroll and Borelli to challenge the repeal in court. In that case, Puerto had said the Jan. 4th Local Law repealing term limits was “illegal, invalid, null, and void.”
Town officials last week indicated they would file another appeal. Town Attorney Craig Johns said the town will foot the bill for the appeal, though he did not say how much it would cost. Councilman Frank Borelli raised concerns about the appeal at a town hall meeting last week, asking why the matter had not been discussed in executive session. Johns said he authorized the decision without council input.
Other Ballot/Petition Challenges
As if all this has not kept justices in the county busy enough, in yet another lawsuit filed by Clarkstown Town Clerk Justin Sweet and Democratic operative Emily King, Justice Paul Marx entered an order declaring the petition filed by Clarkstown Town Justice Scott Ugell to be null and void, declaring Ugell ineligible to run for Town Supervisor while serving as a sitting Town Justice. Marx also entered an order barring the Board of Elections from substituting Lawrence Garvey as a candidate for Town Supervisor as a participant in the scheme hatched by the potential candidates to secure a back-up candidate as a hedge against George Hoehmann losing his appeal and being ineligible run for Town Supervisor.
Marx’s decision is peppered with harsh admonition for both men, citing ethical breaches and fraud.
And in yet another lawsuit filed by Garvey and a slate of Republican candidates, the aggrieved candidates charged fraud and other irregularities in the petitions of Democrats running for office in Clarkstown. Among the allegations were late filing, tampering with the petitions, failure to preserve the petitions with bipartisan security, and other fatal defects. The court heard testimony rebutting the allegations, and after finding multiple pleading errors, errors in service of process, and a lack of evidence supporting the claims made by the Republicans denied all of the claims raised by the Republican petitioners.
“The Republicans filed what was clearly a frivolous and retaliatory lawsuit that had no merit, and the judge saw that,” said Sweet in response to the dismissal by Justice Zuckerman.
photo credit: horimono