Home>Campaigns>Voting is 50 days away and appellate court still sitting on Howell matter

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy. (Photo: NJ Globe).

Voting is 50 days away and appellate court still sitting on Howell matter

By David Wildstein, August 05 2022 7:17 pm

The courts are in no apparent rush to assign a judge to hear an appeal filed last April over the eligibility of candidates who ran in the June primary election, leading some to believe the court has chosen to punt on the issue until after the general election.

A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts confirmed on Friday that no action will be taken on the matter today on a request for oral arguments that was filed sixteen days ago.

A lawsuit filed by local resident John Hughes more than four months ago is challenging a ruling by Superior Court Judge Kathleen Sheedy that allowed two Republicans who failed to get enough signatures – just 50 — to merge their petitions with a third candidate to get on the June 7 primary ballot.

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.

After initially staying Sheedy’s ruling, Appellate Judge Hany A. Mawla 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.

“Judge Mawla has sunk this case by delaying it,” said an attorney not involved in the Howell matter was requested anonymity because of other cases in the state court system.  “In effect, he ruled by not ruling.  I’m not saying he deliberately tanked the case, but I think maybe he didn’t understand it before he prolonged it.”

Jason Sena, an attorney representing Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon, field a request for oral arguments on July 20.  The appellate division has still not ruled on that request.

Hanlon, who has not taken a position on  the merits of Sheedy’s trial court decision, argues that it’s too close to the election for the judge to do anything about the lawsuit.

“Even in the unlikely event that this appeal was argued and decided…it would be logistically and legally impossible to ‘redo’ the Republican primary before the statutory deadline for the design, preparation, and mailing of the ballots and programming of the unified election software for the general election to expire,” Hanlon said in a certification to the court made on July 12.

According to Hanlon, state election law requires 55-day notice to the public before an election.

Michael Collins, an attorney representing the two candidates, Fred Gasior and Susan Fischer, says the case is “meritless” since his clients won a four-way primary by a 2-1 margin over off-the-line challenger Michael Bernstein.    He called the lawsuit “a cynical attempt to benefit the Howell Democrats and create chaos in this November’s general election.”

“Democracy was underserved by this judge,” the attorney said.  “He ought to have ruled in April when the question was first put before him and not pushed it off until after the election was already over.  While I’m fairly certain the judge didn’t set out to taint the process, again, I’m not sure he understands that potential claims of a rigged election, an election where he put his thumb down on the scale, whether it be deliberately or not, calls the fairness of the Howell election into question, and that’s not good for democracy.”

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