Superior Court Judge Salvatore Agati, after hearing three hours of testimony on Friday about the logistics for scheduling a special election for four Board of Education seats, announced he’ll set an order for a date next Wednesday April 18. Based on testimony likely months for potential party primaries and then a general election will be July and September respectively.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ordered Agati, the presiding judge in the case, to set a date for a special election following its decision overturning state takeover of city schools. Norm Pattis, the attorney representing elected school board members who brought legal action, urged Agati to set a date as soon as possible. He chastised the city for delaying the process as an attempt to keep the reconstituted school board in place as long as possible. John Bohannon, the lawyer representing Mayor Bill Finch and the city that supported state control, argued for an abundance of caution, urging the judge to select a date that does not bump up against an already busy election cycle that could cause chaos at the polls.
Friday morning the court heard from Republican Registrar of Voters Linda Grace, called to the stand by Bohannon, who explained the logistical issues associated with scheduling an election. The Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office had supplied the court with several potential dates corresponding with state-mandated timelines that include party endorsements, candidate challenge petition circulation, review of those petitions leading up to possible party primaries and then the general election. Grace testified that based on the dates provided July 17 for a primary and September 11 for the general would be workable without bumping up against an already scheduled August 14 date for party primaries for state and federal offices and Labor Day weekend.
One of the concerns raised by Bohannon and attorney Paul Ganim, representing Democratic Registrar Santa Ayala, is the state-required 14-day lockdown of voting tabulators following an election to allow for recounts and legal challenges. The court also heard from Ted Bromley, an attorney for the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s Office, who cited a number of state statutes in scheduling an election. Bromley was called to the stand by Bohannon. Under cross examination Pattis asked Bromley under what circumstances could an election take place if tabulators were not available. He cited a new state statute that would allow for elections officials to issue paper ballots that would be tabulated by a hand count.
Court opened with jousting between Pattis and Bohannon. Pattis reiterated his stance that the city does not want elected school board members seated. “At what point do clean hands matter?” he asked rhetorically. Bohannon cautioned the judge not to “put the cart before the horse” and Ganim added “Don’t order an election blindly.”
Elected Board of Education member Maria Pereira was an interested spectator. The Supreme Court ruled elected school board members will be reseated once the results of the special election are certified. Also watching was retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, a critic of the state takeover of schools. Lopez, a Bridgeport resident, has written several commentaries condemning the state action that she says violated the democratic rights of voters.
By the time results of a special election are certified, state-appointed school board members will have served for more than one year.