Home>Campaigns>(Updated) Mendham election contest trial will stay on schedule, judge says

ew Jersey Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz. (Photo:New Jersey Globe).

(Updated) Mendham election contest trial will stay on schedule, judge says

Minkowitz grants short extension for document production to accomondate out of office election workers

By David Wildstein, December 30 2022 12:44 pm

In the Mendham Township election challenge of a three-vote Democratic win in the November general election, Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz has granted an eight-day extension for the production of documents but rejected a request by the state attorney general’s office to delay the trial.

Deputy Attorney General Craig S. Keiser told Minkowitz on Thursday that the Morris County Board of Elections was unable to comply with a December 29 deadline because two-thirds of the staff were out of the office this week and that requested documents were not accessible by the employees in the office.  Keiser also asked that the trial be postponed for one week.

Republican Thomas Baio alleges that 33 voters in that election were ineligible to vote in the township committee election because they no longer met residency requirements, including a number of post-college adults who live elsewhere but continue to vote from the home of a parent.

Minkowitz gave attorneys until January 4 to make a demand for documents, with a deadline of January 6 for a response.

The trial is still set for January 19.

Democrat Lauren Spirig, who thwarted Baio’s bid for re-election, will be sworn in next week.  That will leave Republicans in former Gov. Chris Christie’s hometown with a 3-2 majority.

The assignment judge reiterated his determination to not permit extensions.

“The parties shall ensure that all witnesses are available on the trial date and prepared to testify,” Minkowitz wrote in an order issues today.  “Absent extraordinary circumstances, the Court will not entertain applications for adjournments/continuances of the trial date due to unavailability of witnesses.”

Spirig’s attorney, Brett Pugach, asked Minkowitz on Friday afternoon to reconsider his decision to extend the discovery deadline without also moving the trial date to January 26.

He said that the committeewoman-elect agreed to move case management dates “in the spirit of cooperation and good faith” was conditioned on moving the trial date “in unison so as to avoid prejudice with respect to the ability to have adequate time to prepare for trial, especially in light of the inordinately large number of voters challenged in this election contest.”

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Pugach stated, noting that while Baio’s attorney, Tim Howes, will have an additional eight days to respond to discovery demands, while he would have no additional time to prepare for trial, and “will continue to be left in the dark” on evidence that supports the Republican theory that 33 voters were ineligible.

“The premise upon which Spirig agreed to allow for an extension of time to respond was eliminated,” Pugach said.

Now Pugach wants Minkowitz to require Baio to respond to his discovery demands by the end of today.

“While the Board of Elections was not adequately staffed to provide the appropriate documentation, Petitioner presumably has had documents and information relevant to each of the 33 voters whose residency they challenged since at least December 20, 2022, the day they filed their original petition challenging such voters, if not earlier,” Pugach said in his court filing.  “In fact, not having documents and information on such voters would indicate that the contest was brought in bad faith.  There is no legitimate reason why they could not have met the discovery demands in time, as did the county clerk.”

This story was updated at 4:48 PM.

Editor’s note: As of 6 6 PM on December 31, Minkowitz had not responded to Pugach’s request.

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