Superior Court Judge Michael Toto will decide within the next 7-10 days whether candidates who sued Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin for abruptly cancelling the primary election ballot drawing last month can obtain roughly $22,00 in legal fees.
Yael Bromberg and Brett Pugach, who represent off-the-line candidates for the Piscataway Township Council, and Ronald Berutti, who appeared on behalf of GOP congressional candidate Rik Mehta, argued that they were forced to go to court because Pinkin had cancelled the draw.
Last month, Toto ordered Pinkin to reinstate the ballot draw while saying that county clerks have wide discretion on election matters.
“You’re argument is that because you prevailed, you are entitled to fees,” Toto said.
“There would be no order without an application,” said Berutti, noting that if the two sides didn’t file a challenge, the drawing would never have occurred. “We were prevailing parties.”
The request for reimbursement of legal fees from Pinkin has potential statewide significance as outsider candidates seek to whittle away at the advantages of candidates endorsed by a political party organization.”
“The Supreme Court encouraged people to take on these issues,” said Bromberg. “I took it on because I believe in the case. I believe in democracy.”
Berutti argued that “the people must have the power, not clerks in smoked-filled rooms in the back room.”
Still, the uncertainties of Toto’s timetable for a decision – a week to ten days – could create a hardship for the Piscataway candidates and Meta, who are on the ballot eleven days from now.
The campaigns may need to hold back campaign funds to pay their lawyers in case Toto doesn’t rule in their favor. That could potentially impact the results of a close election.