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Allison Eckel. (Photo: Allison Eckel).

Burlington GOP files new suit to remove Eckel from county commission

Dems missed deadline to choose new commissioner, but judge allowed appointment to go through anyways

By Joey Fox, May 04 2022 5:38 pm

Burlington Republicans filed suit yesterday to undo the seating of Democrat Allison Eckel to the Burlington County Commission because her appointment was not done within the proper time period; more than a month ago, a Superior Court judge dismissed an essentially identical lawsuit because the case wasn’t “ripe for adjudication at this time.” 

Attorney Christopher Dasti wrote in the new suit that Eckel’s seat “must be declared vacant until a duly elected person is chosen by the voters of Burlington County” this November.

When former Democratic County Commissioner Linda Hynes was confirmed by the State Senate for a judgeship on the Superior Court in January, Burlington Democrats had 35 days in which to choose her successor. That deadline came and went on February 19 with no action to fill the seat.

In March, the county party finally pulled itself together to settle on Allison Eckel, the 2021 Democratic nominee in one of the 8th legislative district’s Assembly seats, for the seat. But Republicans filed suit to stop them, arguing that the deadline had passed and thus the seat should remain vacant until November, when it would have been up for election anyways.

“There is simply no statutory or common law basis permitting [appointing a new commissioner] outside the statutory timeframe,” read the original complaint filed by Dasti.

On March 28, Superior Court Judge John Harrington did not rule on the merits of the Republicans’ case, but instead found that the suit was simply brought too early. Since Eckel had not even taken office yet when he heard the suit, Harrington said it would be a “slippery slope that could never end” if he were to rule conclusively on the case.

At a four-minute special election Democratic convention last week, Eckel was formally chosen to fill Hynes’ seat, meaning that the Republican lawsuit could finally go forward once again. When Eckel took office, Democrats returned to their 5-0 majority on the county commission; only Eckel’s seat is up for election in November.

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