The fate of mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster and her slate of candidates may well rest on a series of questions Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis presented to lawyers involved in the case. As the evidentiary portion of the Foster case came to a close Tuesday afternoon Judge Bellis informed Alan Neigher and Michele Mount, attorneys for the Foster court challenge and Art Laske, representing Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala who rejected the entire Foster slate citing one too many candidates for Board of Education, that she would like input from them on Wednesday to the following questions, in part, that go to the statutory duties and responsibilities of the registrar. The judge announced to court observers that she penned the questions by candlelight Monday night, like so many without power.
Q. Does Ayala have the authority to reject consent forms assuming she knew they were defective?
Q. Does Ayala have a duty to disqualify herself from the registrar’s typical decision making process if a conflict if interest is involved, for instance if she had a child running for office? (Ayala’s ex-husband Tito Ayala was one of the slate members disqualified by Santa Ayala.)
Q. Assume, the judge presented, that a candidate for Board of Education withdraws as a result of a death. How does this measure against the city’s contention that you cannot cure an excess-candidate issue after the fact? (The Foster slate reduced its slate of BOE candidates from four to three once an issue was raised about the number of candidates allowed.)
Q. Hypothetically, the judge proposed, what happens after the deadline passes to submit consent forms to the registrar and a binding court order rules that no BOE candidates can run in a primary? What impact does this have on the entire slate?
Q. Again hypothetically assume BOE candidates, before the deadline passes for submitting petitions, learn that the elected BOE dissolves itself. Does the registrar have a duty to take action with respect to the remaining slate of candidates?
Q. Again hypothetically assume Foster’s slate submitted 972 candidates for BOE and the registrar knew only three candidates were required, does Ayala have the duty to reject the consent form? Does she have a duty to inform candidates when consent forms are incorrect?
Observing about two hours of testimony and the listening to the judge’s questions Tuesday afternoon, it seems like Judge Bellis wants to find a way to place Foster’s slate on the ballot. But there’s a big if here. What is/was Ayala’s legal authority in this matter (if she knew consent forms were defective?) and does it conflict with Ayala’s fairness “duty” to inform? What action was Ayala obligated to take under the law?
It is the city’s position a registrar is not under any legal obligation to inform if consent forms are incorrect. But what if Ayala misled the slate of candidates? These are all questions the judge will review as she makes a decision that is expected to come later this week. Is it possible for the judge to determine the slate rejection result was harsh but Ayala did not violate her legal authority?
Lawyers will be back on court Wednesday at noon to address Bellis’ questions and deliver final arguments.