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Superior Court Judge John E. Harrington in 2020. (Photo: NJ Courts via YouTube)

Judge dismisses Burlington GOP bid to stop appointment of a new county commissioner

Harrington says case is ‘not ripe for adjudication’

By David Wildstein, March 28 2022 4:54 pm

A Superior Court Judge today dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Burlington County Republicans to stop Democrats from attempting to fill a vacant county commissioner seat, but left the door open to reconsider if the seat is filled at a later date.

Judge John E. Harrington said the case brought by Republicans on Friday “is not ripe for adjudication at this time.”

“I don’t know if the committee is going to meet,  I don’t know if they’re going to make any decision,” Harrington said.  “I frankly don’t now whether it’s reviewable in the court until there is a swearing-in – the person attempts to take office – so there’s a whole host of things that have to occur… (before) determining whether the action was appropriate.”

Republicans argue that the deadline to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of County Commissioner Linda Hynes to become a Superior Court Judge was on February 19.

Joe Andl, the Democratic county chairman, never called a meeting to replace Hynes.

Raj Parikh, the attorney for the Burlington Democrats, argued that neither party should become involved in the decision-making process of the other.

“I’ve done election law for the better part of 15 years at this point and I’ve never been in a case where the Republican Party is trying to enjoy the Democratic Party having some internal meeting or vice versa, for that matter,” he said.

Harrington agreed.

“This is a slippery slope that could never end,” Harrington said.

The attorney for the Republicans, Christopher Dasti, told the court that the GOP became aware of Andl’s plan to appoint Allison Eckel to fill the seat  despite the passage of the deadline.  The New Jersey Globe has confirmed Andl’s intent.

“On February 19th, they failed to fill the seat, and now they’re in the process of taking action to submit a name to the county clerk and try to be clear, we’re not trying to prevent any political organization from meeting, but it certainly would be inappropriate.” Stated Dasti.  “It’s have a vote now in violation of the statute, submit a name to the county clerk for someone to be filled, and then we’re gonna be back here before your honor in a week or a couple days.”

But the judge hinted that in the end, he might not be swayed by the statutory deadline for filling vacancies.

Harrington brought up the mothership of all New Jersey election matters: an October 2002 New Jersey Supreme Court decision that allowed Democrats to replace incumbent Bob Torricelli on the ballot with replacement candidate Frank Lautenberg, even though ballots had already been printed and some votes had already been cast.

“No such thing as a deadline,” Harrington said.

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