Judge Bellis’ Candlelight Questions: What Is Santa’s Duty To Inform?

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.



  1. It makes sense the Registrar of Voters has an obligation to inform petitioning candidates if the relevant consent forms are flawed or incorrect to prevent the candidate from expending a lot of effort for nothing. Santa Ayala is unfit to hold public office. Paul Ganim is Judge of Probate, not an employee of the City Attorney’s office.

  2. I’ll bet $50 the judge errs on the side of cemocracy and grants Foster ballot access.

    Maybe, just maybe, the BOE slate gets tossed as some compromise. But I can’t believe a judge would effectively cancel an election because of a technicality (and after Ayala’s gross misconduct).

    The final question is whether this gets punted to an appeals judge …

  3. I’m guessing the judge will engage in some of Solomon’s wisdom and allow MJF’s name on the ballot and toss the rest of the slate. Let’s not forget the State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating two complaints from the Foster camp, including the case currently before the court.

    If Judge Bellis rules in favor of the plaintiffs it is doubtful the City Attorney’s office will appeal the ruling. That would appear to be a case of sour grapes. As Mario Testa has proven through his use of pawns like Bill Finch, Santa Ayala and a few members of the City Council, he does not want to lose control of Bridgeport’s municipal government. And the operative word is CONTROL. Mr. Testa’s concern has never been the greater good, never been for the benefit of the people of the city of Bridgeport. It has always been about power, control and politics as sport. It is high time for his style of governance to end.

      1. Brannelly doesn’t care about the 130th and McCarthy’s a no-show at the City Council meetings, both handpicked by Roach & Mario. Jim Fox/Jill Hughes have my vote for the 130th. Jim’s a real nice guy and hard worker.

  4. The Candlelite/Pix Twin Drive-In on River Street was a great place to prepare your briefs. Captain Coviello was very brief on the stand this afternoon. I think Attorney Laske, today, with his Good Housekeeping tactics could take it in the shorts tomorrow. He’s a very fine lawyer with an unbelievable client.

  5. Glad for the update. I get the feeling the judge is looking to put MJ on the ballot also. Side note to B Kid, you’re boring us with your every two minute posts, and you add nothing.

  6. North End 134th there is going to be a tidal wave of support for Mary-Jane Foster. We might be supporting AmyMarie Paniccia and Michelle Lyons but their constituents are supporting Mary-Jane Foster. Poor Finch. Here is the visual. Picture this–Bill Finch is a puppet being manipulated by Mario Testa with all of the sycophants of the town committee watching in awe as Finch lipsynchs to Mario Testa’s not too shabby version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way–“And now, the end is near, and I face my final curtain … and this, much more than this, I did it my way!!!”

    With his puissance gone, the lighting goes dim. A new Democratic party arises. Mary-Jane Foster appears as the Phoenix rising. In effect, the new leader of the Democratic party.

    Auerbach Post

  7. Here is the take-home test for the lawyers to answer the below 9 questions courtesy of Dan Tepfer of the CT Post.

    Both sides rested their cases and Judge Bellis then posed her nine questions:

    Whether the registrar has the authority or duty to reject consent forms when she knows they are defective. She asked;

    If there is a conflict of interest, such as in this case Ayala being made a party in the Waterbury case?

    Can the registrar step aside and have someone else in her office do her duty?

    Assume there were three Board of Education candidates on the slate, but before the primary one of the candidates withdraws, what does that do to the entire petition slate?

    Assume there are three Board of Education candidates on the slate and after the deadline for submitting petitions, but before the primary there is a court ruling that there is no primary for Board of Education, what happens to the entire slate?

    Assume there are three Board of Education candidates on the slate, but before the deadline for submitting petitions the elected Board of Education dissolves itself, does the registrar have a duty or obligation to take any action with that slate of candidates?

    Assume in this case the Foster campaign submitted 972 candidates for the Board of Education and the registrar knew the maximum number of candidates could only be three, does the registrar have the authority to reject the consent form, the duty to reject the consent form, and inform the candidates of the proper number?

    Assume the Foster campaign submitted the consent form with three Board of Education candidates and the registrar knew or should have known there was no Board of Education in existence, does she have the authority or duty to reject the form and pass that information to the candidates?

    After the petition forms are issued the registrar knows there will be no primary for the Board of Education, does she have any duty or responsibility to take any action and after the Aug. 10 deadline for submitting signatures on the petitions but before the petitions are certified the registrar knows there is not going to be a primary for Board of Education candidates, what responsibility does the registrar have to notify parties?

    Please feel free to answer one, three of nine or all of the above.

    First-place winner will have the opportunity to have dinner with Lennie at a Bridgeport restaurant of their choice. Second-place winner will receive the opportunity to have dinner twice with Lennie at the restaurant of their choice.*

    *No “Failed Restaurateurs” are eligible to participate. Void where prohibited by law unless you have requested and received a ruling from the Bridgeport Democratic Registrar of Voters.

    1. Can we go to Testo’s after the primary and before the zoning change to create a new dorm for Sacred Heart students??? I will be there tomorrow and hope it will not be as boring as the last two days. I have faith Judge Bellis will side with the Foster team. One way or another I will assume we are moving full speed ahead until told otherwise. Now that’s a loyalist!!!

    2. Oh what the heck. I will offer my opinion here. Judge Bellis is bright and not afraid to do what she believes to be right. Nevertheless, here are the answers to her questions from one casual observer.
      1. Registrar does not render legal advice to candidates or campaigns. This registrar isn’t even a lawyer. That’s what campaign managers and campaign legal teams are for. She has duty examine petitions to ensure they meet the specific criteria of the law when the petition is submitted for validation. Nothing more or less. Imagine if the Registrar is duty bound to advise a campaign if registrar thinks consent form is flawed and that advice turns out to be wrong? Yikes. We do not and cannot want this.
      Interesting that this question presupposes Ms. Ayala was aware of the issue at the time the consent forms were issued. Not sure that is what the evidence has shown. Isn’t this why Mr. Neigher was trying to introduce a newspaper article? Whatever happened to that issue anyway? Did Mr. Neigher establish at least one new piece of legal jurisprudence–the ability to impeach a witness with a newspaper?
      2. There is no conflict of interest. As registrar she is obligated to ensure that petition complies with requirements of law. This is also a question that really doesn’t have any bearing here as Judge still has to decide whether the petition was valid under the law. Further, the real question is why was she sued in the Board of Ed case? She has nothing to do with that. Surely, the law does not want to give campaigns to ability to sue the registrar in advance of an election filing simply to disqualify her from evaluating whether the filing meets the requirements of state law. Imagine what the politicians and the legal teams would do if they were afforded this option in their bag of tricks?
      3. See #2 above. Question seems off point. Whoever makes decision, the petition still needs to comply with the provisions of state elections law and municipal charter.
      4. Does nothing to the petition. Petition is valid or not at the time it is submitted to registrar for validation. Interesting intellectual exercise, perhaps, but again seems off point here.
      5. See #4 above. Validity of petition is at time it is submitted for validation. Valid petition cannot later become invalid by subsequent events. Similarly, invalid petition cannot later become valid by subsequent events. Otherwise, there would be no finality to the validation process. There is no BOE primary, but rest of slate gets to be included in primary and MJF gets benefit of petition signatures of folks who only signed because they supported one or more BOE slates. Perhaps Bartlett was dumb like a fox in envisioning this potential scenario? That may be giving him too much credit.
      6. City Charter would govern here. Certainly, an invalid petition at time of submission to registrar does not later become valid by virtue of subsequent conduct of Board of Ed. See #5.
      7. See answer to question #1. She has a duty to ensure the petition meets all legal requirements at time of validation. MJF camp has not cited a single piece of authority in their Brief (previously posted on OIB site) that suggests she had legal duty to reject consent form. Additionally, even if she did, her failure to do so does not render a subsequent, invalid petition valid. Two wrongs don’t make a right, remember? Additionally, City Registrar does not have authority to waive state law. Just like city tax collector does not have authority to waive state tax law. Would MJF camp have us believe if city tax collector tells us we don’t have to pay state income tax, we would have valid defense for nonpayment of state income tax down the road when State Dept of Revenue Services comes after us? Of course not.
      8. See answer to #7 above.
      9. Can’t quite follow this hypothetical. In any event, again, Registrar is not obligated to, indeed probably is legally prohibited from, rendering legal advice, especially when the registrar is not a lawyer. This is precisely what campaign legal teams are for. And the courts when a dispute arises.

  8. There isn’t much case law. There isn’t much guidance in the legislation. My bet is this judge is going to lay down some rules of the road so an incompetent registrar who bows to the party powers will never ever hijack an election in this state.

    1. This entire episode was a criminal act. Finch’s campaign was bubbling under, in spite of the misleading poll numbers LG laid on us. Mario Testa didn’t want Finch running against Mary-Jane Foster in the primary. The rejection of the petition was an attempt to remove her from the picture. The revolutionary guard of the DTC wanted to run against Jeff Kohut in the general election. That’s no shame on him; he has shown himself to be thoughtful and articulate on the issues, if not always practical. Mr. Kohut is also the weakest candidate to challenge the Finch & Wood Pandemonium Shadow Show.

      From the nine questions posed by Judge Bellis it would appear she is trying to find the middle ground while reinstating Mary-Jane Foster’s name to the primary ballot. That should give Mario Testa pause. He didn’t succeed in throwing the primary. If anything voters will be even less inclined to vote for Bill Finch.

      1. You know this for a fact, do you? Do you have wiretaps in place? If this is all a big criminal conspiracy then Bartlett is complicit in it BECAUSE THERE WOULD BE NO ISSUE IF HE HAD NOT PLACED TOO MANY NAMES ON THE BALLOT DESPITE BEING TOLD MORE THAN ONCE HE WAS WRONG.

  9. Section 9-410(a) of the General Statutes states: “only as many candidates may be proposed in any one primary petition for the same office or position as are to be nominated or chosen by such party.”

    Section 9-410(a), implies that if the Democratic Party chose NOT to nominate any BOE candidates, then MJF can’t put up any candidates for BOE on her petition slate, “Only as many candidates may be proposed.”
    This Statute is vague and inapplicable under the circumstances created by the mayor and the BOE majority who voted to dissolve the Bridgeport BOE. “Only as many candidates may be proposed.” We know the DTC nominated zero (0) candidates for BOE. Does this mean MJF could not have any candidates for BOE?

    “… as are to be nominated or chosen by such party.”
    Does this mean the DTC was obligated by Statute to nominate BOE candidates?

    Let’s leave out the BOE candidates on MJF’s petition and suppose MJF was the only mayoral candidate on the petition. Let’s all suppose the DTC decides NOT to nominate a mayoral candidate. Zero (0) mayoral candidates.

    This Statute, as it’s worded, prohibits MJF from petitioning for the ballot under the above mentioned supposition. I thought that the court would scrutinize the language of the law and its intended purpose–if it can figure it out. I’m baffled as to why Judge Bellis isn’t hypothetically assuming with the language and the intent of Section 9-410(a) of the General Statutes. I’m just as baffled as to why MJF has two attorneys and from what I’ve read, they didn’t even attempt to attack Section 9-410(a). After all, it’s the facts of the case which the judge needed to hear. Isn’t it a fact Section 9-410(a) of the General Statutes is what Santa Ayala is applying to justify her decision?

    The real loser here is Kayla Torres. Santa Ayala maintained–under oath–she never made the comment or statement quoted to her by the CT Post’s K. Torres. I’m wondering why Daniel Tepfer or Keila Torres herself haven’t made an issue of this contradicting position. Who is lying here, Lennie? I’d have to go with Santa Ayala’s statement as it was made under oath and hasn’t been challenged or disputed by the other side. One would think a reporter would worry about their credibility, eh Lennie?

  10. CT Post today backs what I’ve said here all along, Bartlett knew 3 spots not 4. Coviello testified he told him so. This debacle is squarely on his shoulders and someone who lost for Garcia and his own rep. campaign should never have been brought in to play in the big time with so much on the line. Poor John Gomes who is losing more than all of us for being noble. He would have destroyed Finch one on one.

  11. There goes WINNING WHINING again! John Gomes is a fine and smart man who is helping the Foster campaign with his outstanding analytical and leadership skills. Winston Churchill used to sign the bottom of his correspondence with the letters “KBO.” Keep Buggering On!

    P.S. Why didn’t the Post discuss that Katie Breslin, Finch’s campaign manager, is from New Britain?

    1. I’ve been keeping my mouth shut here pending the outcome of the court case and I am being as diplomatic as possible when I say Bartlett does not have a winning record and was probably not the best choice for campaign manager. This has absolutely nothing to do with where he’s from.

      1. And this is going to make a difference? Who gives a rat’s ass? The judge seems to be more focused on putting MJF’s name on the ballot. What Jason Bartlett did or didn’t do is now moot. Get over it.

        1. It’s people like you who keep me off this site with your holier than thou, think you know it all responses to everyone. If not for Jason Bartlett’s massive screw-up, we would not need a judge or be wasting precious campaign time and resources two weeks before the election. I can go on about how it was his job to dot every “i” and cross every “t” knowing the machine would go to any length to remain in power. Bartlett was told by others in addition to Coviello that there were too many on the ballot for the BOE and his response was “I know what I’m doing.” Obviously he does not and it is not a moot point. I know you know all and see all, TBK, but there was no reason for this circus when there is serious work to be done in these last two weeks and even if MJF gets on the ballot, if she does not win the primary it will come back to Bartlett.

          1. The facts and the law are on the side of the plaintiffs, period. Judge Bellis is going to issue a ruling that will become case law.

          2. Amen! Bartlett hasn’t managed a winning campaign. This is just more evidence of why that is the case. Can’t even be bothered to research and know the rules of the game. Incredible.

          1. Why, you ask? Is thoughtful commentary that might reflects poorly on anyone other than the current administration not permitted here? So what he was a bad choice. Because the MJF campaign was so sure they could deliver her to city hall they convinced the only other contender to drop out and support her and if she does not win we are screwed in every way, shape and form. If no one else here thinks this is relevant then you’re being naive.

          2. Thoughtful commentary? Looks more like you’re gassing off, venting your personal frustrations with Mr. Bartlett. He didn’t know how to play the game by Bridgeport rules. He’s not the only person on the campaign. There are a few suits who should’ve known better. I understand what you’re saying, Corrupticut. You said it more than once. Harping on it is not considered “thoughtful commentary,” it is complaining.

  12. The ROV has access to the entire staff of the city attorney. And, according to reports, also retained a private attorney for whatever reason. There are numerous attorneys from the city so why she had to retain Ganim is a mystery to me–but so be it. She has the legal responsibility to prepare the petitions according to law–all laws including city laws. With her access to city legal staff she should have asked for their guidance as well. It is unclear to me if she did or did not. I think she did not. After the legal heads reviewed the submitted petitions is when everyone discovered the defect and kept it a big secret until the deadline had passed. In my humble opinion, this was a conspiracy and the ROV was the vehicle to carry it out–whether intentionally or not, she failed to carry out her sworn duties and she allowed others to dictate to her for whatever promise. The Judge will order MJF to be restored. The campaign manager’s errors or lack of knowledge is not unusual and the ROV was in the position to correct the defect, not add to it or permit it to compound. When will all of this ever end???

  13. Under absentee counting rules, if a voter votes for more than the allowed number of candidates only their vote for the one office is not counted–their entire ballot is not disregarded–the same is true now for voting at the polls.

    If a voter marks off four sheriffs instead of three, the rest of the votes for other offices count–same outcome should result here–one office is flawed–not the entire petition.

  14. I would like to change the subject for a moment, hurricane Irene hit Seaside Village really hard but I must give credit to the Bridgeport Public Works Department, they have been working here since early Monday morning and they are still here working hard to remove all of the damage that was done. Residents have had to throw away everything that was damage by the water. Sorry for the change but when public workers do a good job we should acknowledge it even if it is their job.

    1. NICE TO ACKNOWLEDGE A JOB WELL DONE, MR. MACKEY. There are many city employees who have pride in doing their job and doing it well. I do not think it is their superiors who need to take the credit. Many of these great city workers have seen many managers and mayors come and go.

      1. Steven Auerbach, you and BEACON2 have done a better job in explaining the value of DPW than I did, thanks. We never thought they would be here that long. We thought when they started picking up debris as well as removing tree limbs, they would make one pass through the Village and that was it.

        We were worried because there was so much damage plus many residents were still pumping water out of their basements, but happily these hard-working city employees showed they have pride in doing their job and doing it well and they didn’t leave us abandoned with bagged debris, water tanks, mattresses, sofas, chairs etc. sitting on the street curb. Once again thanks, job well done.

  15. Ron,
    My neighborhood got rapid and serious attention from City employees cleaning the street, taking away bagged debris as well as removing tree limbs and dock remnants thrown up by the Sound waves. Great work. Almost as if we had no storm at all, with the exception of the continuing power outages.

    And the Council persons have been in furious communication to assist the City departments despite their having vocational responsibilities other than storm repair. Good work!!!

    I am working on digesting the most recent financial report on 2011 that includes March, April and May (but not the final month June 2011.) The report says a $2,356,831 deficit was to be expected at June 30, 2011. Wonder what happened? Curious about the trial balance and where the City “unrestricted undesignated fund balance” has decreased to if that deficit stands.

    I truly wish the Council persons would have the same City commitment to timely and full financial reporting supported by accurate, monthly, reports from Mayor, OPM, Finance Office, whatever, that the PWD has to Irene cleanup. If you don’t get statements from the bank monthly, if you don’t have online access to account information for financial products and bank deposits, where would we be? And we need to look at items like the regular increase annually in the size of the tax anticipation notes floated by the City as temporary stopgaps to lack of revenue from other predictable sources.

    Will taxpayers be pleased to discover the “promise of no increase in taxes” was only paved by using a City Credit Card with Council approved ever increasing “tax anticipation note” limits as well as more expensive interest charges for City taxpayers than neighboring towns pay?

  16. Heard closing arguments in the Foster case. Judge Bellis will issue her ruling at 3 PM Friday in open court. In his closing, Attorney Neigher made four arguments:

    1. The state statute saying no more nominees on the petition than seats to be elected was not intended to cover this situation but was for someone using extra nominees to draw votes from another candidate. It was not intended to cover what was done here with listing a fourth bd nominee
    2. The charter has been selectively used by the city and therefore amounts to selective enforcement
    3. No one knew at the time of the petition how many bd of ed seats might be up for election given the confusion with the bd
    4. Ayala’s failure to inform the Foster campaign of an email from the state on 8/28 saying there would be no bd of ed primary amounts to a violation of municipal estoppel, an attempt to deprive someone of a legal right (my definition, not the legal one)

    Leske countered with one main argument and that was by statute the registrar can exercise no judgment when certifying a petition but must type it up and give it to the candidates. The registrar exercises judgment only when the petitions are returned. In this case registrar Ayala acted in accordance with the law. When he finished the Judge asked Attorney Leske this question: You say the registrar when receiving request to certify is a robot but by her own testimony Ayala stated to the Foster campaign that I don’t know if I can certify your petition. The judge went on to Leske, isn’t that a contradiction of your argument, because it seems Ayala believed she had discretion on whether to certify or not. Leske gave a long answer to the court but at least I believe he never answered the judge’s question. By the way attorney Neigher asked if the court rules for Foster that the primary be ordered later than the 13th because of all the time lost by the disqualification and the lawsuit.

    1. Nice writeup, Don. A couple notes:

      1) Leske’s argument was “The registrar exercises judgment only when the petitions are returned,” but a fact that seems to be getting missed is Ayala did in fact exercise her judgement and did certify the slate (with the exception of BOE) in her letter to the town clerk of 8/18. The city seems to be arguing she had the authority to rescind a certification she had already made after the fact. I would be keenly interested in seeing if Section E of the petition pages contain signatures and valid counts.

      2) The judge can, if she sees fit, change the date of the primary (9-329a) – “Such judge shall thereupon, if he finds any error in the ruling of the election official, any mistake in the count of the votes or any violation of said sections, certify the result of his finding or decision to the Secretary of the State before the tenth day following the conclusion of the hearing. Such judge may (1) determine the result of such primary; (2) order a change in the existing primary schedule; or (3) order a new primary if he finds that but for the error in the ruling of the election official, any mistake in the count of the votes or any violation of said sections, the result of such primary might have been different and he is unable to determine the result of such primary.” She can also cause some candidates to be on the primary ballot and others to be removed (9-329b) – “At any time prior to a primary held pursuant to sections 9-423, 9-425 and 9-464, or a special act or prior to any election, the Superior Court may issue an order removing a candidate from a ballot label where it is shown that said candidate is improperly on the ballot.”

  17. Three Cheers for our Police, Fire and Public Works and Parks workers in doing an outstanding job over the last three and the upcoming days ahead.

    A Big Boo to Bill Finch for breaking them off and trying to interfere with free commerce in chastising a Bridgeport business owner for being open during the hurricane. The employer runs a 24/7/365 operation that heavily services public safety officers and the general public. The owners went and picked up their employees to relieve other shift workers. The employees were happy to work and not lose out on 8 hours’ pay. This unidentified business provided a public service to all on Sunday.

    Another example of a Cluster Finch!

  18. It was more than a little disgusting Bill Finch went out in his shirt sleeves to use the approaching storm as the backdrop for a photo op. The tactics employed by at least one of his subordinates were appalling. I’ve heard from a few people an aide to the mayor asked for the name and phone number of their next of kin.

    1. It’s disgusting Bill Finch used the storm as an excuse to bring a 5 course catered meal from Vazzy’s to several senior housing sites which didn’t have power. Your tax dollars at work. The man has no shame.


Leave a Reply