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Superior Court Judge Linda Grasso Jones in July 2022. (Photo: New Jersey Globe.)

Judge upholds N.J. Sore Loser Law

Colts Neck man who ran in GOP primary as a write-in candidate can’t run as independent in fall

By David Wildstein, July 21 2022 4:01 pm

A Superior Court Judge defended New Jersey’s Sore Loser Law on Thursday, ruling that a Colts Neck man who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for township committee in the June Republican primary was ineligible to file as an independent candidate in the same election.

Joseph Abutel filed a lawsuit to get on the ballot after Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon had rejected his nominating petitions, citing the state’s Sore Loser Law.

Superior Court Judge Linda Grasso Jones agreed.

“The court is satisfied that Hanlon’s determination…should not be disturbed,” Grasso Jones wrote in a decision issued a few hours after a short court hearing.  “He cannot petition for direct nomination as an independent candidate and cannot appear on the ballot as an independent candidate.”

But Grasso Jones said that Colts Neck voters “will not be disenfranchised of their right to vote for Abutel as an independent.”

“Abutel is of course permitted to seek the vote of his fellow Colts Neck Township residents in the general election as a write in independent candidate,” the judge said.  “He can operate a campaign in the general election using a website, lawn signs, email account and political mailings identifying himself as an independent candidate for the Colts Neck Township Committee.”

Kevin Starkey, who represented Abutel, had argued that a write-in campaign was not the same as being on the ballot in the primary election.

He also suggested that there are many factors involved in determining candidacies.

“Those factors should be determined by the legislature, not the court,” Starkey said.

But Shrewsbury Mayor Erik Anderson, who was representing the county clerk, maintained that Hanlon’s ruling followed the “underlying intent of the legislature.”

Abutel launched a write-in challenge to incumbent Sue Fitzpatrick last April, but lost the GOP primary, 980 to 179.  He waged a full-scale campaign, spending $5,800 of his own money on direct mail, lawn signs, a campaign website, and a digital effort, according to his New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission filing.

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