The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled today in favor of the City of Linden against former Councilman Paul Coates, overturning a previous ruling in favor of Coates.
In 2019, after 8th ward Councilwoman Michele Yamakaitis was elected council president, the Linden Democratic Party submitted Coates as one of three names for Mayor Derek Armstead to choose from to fill Yamakaitis’ seat until a special election was held. When Armstead declined to choose, the Democratic Party unanimously chose Coates.
Armstead, however, refused to seat him, in part because of a feud with State Sen. (and then-leader of the Linden Democratic Party) Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden). Coates sued the city, and in May 2019 the state Superior Court ruled his favor, ordering the city to seat him. Coates went on to lose a primary for the seat shortly afterwards, but was awarded $110,236 that November after a protracted court battle.
The city appealed, arguing that not seating Coates did not violate any law nor constitute a “substantive due process violation.” Now, after a nearly two year gap, the Superior Court Appellate Division reversed the original decision and dismissed a cross-appeal from Coates.
The decision, written by Presiding Judge Carmen Messano, asserts that the city was within its rights to deny Coates the office, citing a 1990 amendment to NJSA 40A:16-13, which states that “[i]f a governing body shall fail or decline to fill a vacancy in the membership of the governing body by appointment, … the office shall remain vacant for the remainder of the term or until the election and qualification of a successor.”
Armstead, who remains the city’s mayor, lauded the court’s verdict in a statement.
“This decision is vindication for the residents of the 8th Ward and the City Council who, based upon the advice of our City Attorney, Daniel Antonelli, were right when they determined to maintain a vacancy until the primary election,” he said.