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New Jersey Appellate Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple. (Photo: New Jersey Globe).

After 143 days, appellate judges hear Howell ballot challenge

Court may have run out the clock on matter involving April petitions for June primary election

By David Wildstein, September 12 2022 1:19 pm

A challenge to nominating petitions filed in April for the June Republican primary election in Howell was finally heard in state appellate court today,

It took the courts nearly five months to hear an appeal of Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy’s ruling that allowed two GOP township council candidates to retroactively combine separate nominating petitions with a third candidate in order to hit the 50-signature threshold needed to get on the primary ballot.

The panel of judges —  Mary Gibbons Whipple, Hany A. Mawl and Morris G. Smith – asked just one question,  wondering what is the remedy appellant John Hughes was seeking.

His attorney, David Minchello, suggested that Republicans, Fred Gasior and Susan Fischer be removed from the ballot, since they ought not have been there in the first place.

Mawla initially stayed Sheedy’s ruling, but suddenly reversed course in April to reject an emergent appeal and allow the primary to continue.  He set up a briefing schedule that began on June 10 – three days after the primary – and end on July 21.  Later, the deadline was extended to August 1.

It took weeks to assign appellate judges to the matter and oral arguments were held today, 143 days after the appeal was filed.

At this late date, it’s unlikely that judges will make any changes to the general election ballot even though the delays are arguably the fault of the judiciary.

It remains unclear if the appellate court will validate Sheedy’s decision.  That could radically alter how candidates get on the ballot in New Jersey.

If Sheedy’s decision in upheld, it would  essentially set aside requirements that candidates get a minimum number of petition signatures in order to have their name appear on the ballot.  It could permit petitions to be circulated without the name of a candidate.

Gasior filed 50 signatures and Fischer, field 52.  The municipal clerk invalidated enough signatures push both under 50.  But the GOP municipal chair, Joseph DiBella, filed the petitions – along with a third candidate, Ian Nadel – as if they were joint petitions.

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