UPDATE, includes judge’s written decision: Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled Friday afternoon that Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala wrongfully blocked mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster and her slate of candidates from appearing on a September Democratic primary ballot. Bellis ordered a September 27 primary siding with Foster’s request to push back the primary from September 13. Ayala had rejected Foster’s entire slate of candidates on the basis that it had offered one too many candidates for Board of Education. Bellis ordered all of Foster’s ticket candidates–city clerk, town clerk and sheriff–be placed on the ballot except for BOE candidates because the BOE has been reconstituted by the state and therefore no school board election will take place.
The judge ruled: “Looking at the plain language of the statute, it is reasonable to conclude that the registrar does not have the authority or a duty to reject consent forms at this stage of the election process, provided that the petitioner has complied with the statutory requirement of providing his name and address, the name, address and office or position sought by each candidate, and statement signed by each candidate that he consents to the candidacy.”
The judge’s order takes Ayala to task on a number of fronts including misleading Foster’s Campaign Manager Jason Bartlett:
In short, the registrar made the decision to prepare and issue a petition form for four Board of Education candidates for a September 13, 2011 primary, when she should have known the proper number was three, knowing that no other major parties were running Board of Education candidates, and knowing that the board was being reconstituted by the state and that as such there would be no primary or general election absent a court ruling to the contrary. The registrar had direct involvement in the Waterbury litigation, and knew of the many attempts by the Foster campaign to get a ruling on whether there would be a primary. When the registrar received the August 5, 2011 email asking whether she would certify their petition, including their Board of Education candidates, no one from the office of the registrar responded to that inquiry. The registrar’s unfortunate decision not to respond to that inquiry, either personally or through some other staff member in her office, effectively prevented any further meaningful inquiry by the Foster campaign and left them with no guidance from the office statutorily charged with the extraordinary responsibility of issuing petitions and certifying candidates for the ballot and who best knew how to proceed. She did not meet the August 17, 2011 deadline to decide whether or not to certify the petitions, although the court credits her testimony that she was reluctant to disqualify the entire slate and was looking for guidance. Nonetheless, seventeen days after she learned for certain that there was no elected Board of Education and hence no need for a primary for Board of Education candidates, she disqualified the entire Foster slate for having one to many Board of Education candidates.
Regardless of whether the registrar was initially motivated by an effort to be helpful or a desire to have the Secretary of State decide this difficult issue for her, or some combination of both factors and other factors, her words and actions with respect to the initial issuance of the petition papers, and re-issuance of the corrected petition papers, along with her subsequent words and actions, as discussed above, reasonably induced the plaintiffs to believe that their consent form and petition papers with the respect to their Board of Education candidates were in order and had been approved by this experienced registrar. After the registrar’s attention was specifically drawn to the exact number of Board of Education candidates on the petition following her office’s clerical error, she allayed (Jason) Bartlett’s concern that there was a problem with the fourth Board of Education candidate, attributing it to a careless mistake. Putting aside the issue of whether she had any duty to relay the correct information to Bartlett, Bartlett was understandably misled, to his detriment by her reassurance that there was no problem with that fourth candidate, or with any of his candidates for that matter.
Read the judge’s entire decision:
This is a nice legal victory for the Foster campaign and her lawyers Alan Neigher and Michele Mount. From the Foster campaign:
Foster: This is a Win for Bridgeport
Gratified that Mayor Finch wants a primary and won’t appeal
-Democratic candidate for mayor of Bridgeport Mary-Jane Foster emerged from the courtroom victorious today to chants of “Mary-Jane! Mary-Jane!” and called on her supporters to renew their activism and efforts to not only elect her mayor but to renew their efforts to turn around the city of Bridgeport.
“Today is not so much a victory for me and our slate, today is a victory for Bridgeport,” stated Foster. “This is about American government and our judicial system at its very best. It shows you what a truly great country we have. This is was a hard fought victory for the people of Bridgeport, who have been disenfranchised by this mayor not once, not twice, but three times. This is a win for fairness, a win for integrity, but most of all a win for Bridgeport. This was about the right for people to vote, for the right of our residents to determine our city’s destiny. Too often I have come across people who have given up hope … given up hope that we can grow jobs here in Bridgeport, given up hope that we can reduce the tax burden, reduce crime, end questionable ethics, end political patronage, and end cronyism.
Today, we are renewed in our sense of justice and in our knowledge that we can believe in our fellow man and accomplish what we set out to do: grow jobs, reduce taxes, treat one another with respect, improve our standard of living, help our seniors, and teach our children.
I pledge to you that I will use this opportunity, that I will take this challenge and make our city a better place. Bridgeport deserves better and we are going to work together to take back this city on September 27th!”