Judge tosses Working Families Party case

The Working Families Party lawsuit was dismissed. File photo

HUDSON — The Columbia County Working Families Party case was dismissed Friday, along with its 13 consolidated cases.

Judge Scott DelConte, a justice of the Supreme Court, 5th Judicial District in New York, from Oswego County, has been presiding over the case since it was consolidated.

DelConte ruled Friday that petitioners did not have sufficient evidence to support claims that the Working Families Party certificates of authorization were invalid or fraudulent because they lacked original signatures.

The certificate of authorization, also called the Wilson-Pakula authorization, allows candidates from other parties to run on the Working Families Party line. About 30 candidates are on the certificate in Columbia County.

Lawyers for the petitioners in the 14 cases argued the Working Families Party’s certificates of authorization are invalid because signatures were cut and pasted electronically and the certificates were scanned, so local boards of elections did not receive original documents with authentic signatures.

Attorneys for the respondents, including the boards of elections, Working Families Party and candidates, argued the signatures were done legally and the documents complied with election law and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.7, which allows notarization processes to take place remotely over video calls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Petitioners failed to provide evidence the certificates of authorization are invalid, DelConte wrote in his order.

“There is simply no support for Petitioners’ argument that Executive Order 202.7 does not apply to election-related documents,” DelConte wrote. “Indeed, such an argument is logically incompatible given Executive Order 202.93, which explicitly permits a party committee to meet to issue a Wilson-Pakula authorization remotely during the pandemic by telephone or video conferencing means.”

The judge’s ruling applied to cases in nine counties. Lawsuits in Dutchess, Monroe, Rockland, Saratoga, Suffolk and Ulster counties were thrown out on technical issues.

Daniel Langenbucher and Jonathan Westin from the Working Families Party and notary William Sacks testified Tuesday and lawyers presented their arguments last Wednesday.

Langenbucher and Westin signed a piece of paper and held it to the camera and showed their drivers licenses while on a Zoom video conference with Sacks. The two men took photos of their signatures and affixed them to a digital authorization form while on camera and screen sharing with Sacks. Sacks verified the two men’s identities, watched them place their own digital signatures onto the digital certificates, printed the authorization forms on paper, notarized them by hand and scanned the documents back to Langenbcuher, who printed the complete versions and sent them to local boards of elections.

The record establishes the executive board of the party met remotely in accordance with Executive Order 202.93 to authorize candidates in the 2021 local elections across the state, according to DelConte’s ruling.

Ghent Republican Committee member Christopher Cornell and Hudson 2nd Ward Supervisor Abdus Miah, a Democrat, set forth the Columbia County challenge against four local Working Families Party candidates’ certificate of authorization in Columbia County Court earlier this month and their case was consolidated with 13 others across the state. Both men were represented by attorney John Ciampoli of Messina, Perillo and Hill, LPP, of Sayville. Cornell challenged Ghent town board candidates Mallory Mort, Laurie Johnson and Carl Quinn, and Miah challenged 2nd Ward Alderwoman and Majority Leader Tiffany Garriga.

Miah said April 15 he intended to bring a complaint to the Columbia County Board of Elections, not to court, against Garriga, who is challenging him for his supervisor seat. Miah said he has no connection to Cornell.

Cornell said he knows Miah coincidentally but was surprised to see him listed on court documents because they had not spoken in a couple of years.

Cornell was made aware of the similar cases through the Ghent Republican Committee. He later signed the objection.

“I’m very interested in election integrity, as a lot of people are, and so that’s why we proceeded,” he said.

The case was a attempt to suppress voters’ rights, Sharon Cromwell, deputy state director of the New York Working Families Party said in a statement.

“The New York State Supreme Court confirmed what we knew all along: that the GOP’s case doesn’t stand up to the facts,” Cromwell said. “This whole process is a shameless attempt to suppress the voice of voters and interfere with the democratic process. Republicans know that they can’t win at the ballot box, so they’re simply wasting time and money in the courts. We’re grateful to our members, volunteers, and candidates for standing with us, and look forward to getting our Working Families candidates elected.”

State Republican Committee spokeswoman Jessica Proud declined to comment Monday, except to say the New York State GOP did not have any involvement with the case. The involvement was from local committees, she said.

Columbia County Republican Committee Chairman Greg Fingar said Monday he is not directly involved in the case. “To the best of my knowledge, this is a legal matter, not political,” he said Monday.

But Fingar, who said he is a New York state notary himself, took issue with the way the signatures were notarized over Zoom.

“Not having to actually see someone sign is riddled with potential notary fraud,” he said.

Cornell criticized the executive order about remote notarization Monday, calling it unclear, vague and ambiguous.

“The executive order was ambiguous and that’s not the way I like to see government run,” he said.

Cornell hopes the case provided a lesson for clarity in executive orders and the law, he said.

“It should be very clear and not ambiguous, and straightforward, so we don’t have questions about election integrity,” he said.

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