Embattled Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin will need to pay the $8,211 legal bill incurred by off-the-line Democratic council candidates in Piscataway and county commissioner after they were forced to go to court to force her to hold a ballot drawing, a Superior Court Judge ordered on Tuesday.
Pinkin had abruptly cancelled the ballot draw about an hour after she returned from an ill-timed week-long junket to Ireland. A few days later, Toto ordered her to hold the drawing.
The judge, Michael A. Toto, waited twelve days to issue his ruling, effectively freezing the financial resources of candidates for the final stretch of the primary campaign. Dollars set aside by the candidates to pay their lawyer – they had already paid attorney Yael Bromberg a $2,500 retainer – were unavailable to them for this election.
Toto turned down a request for legal fees by Republican congressional candidate Rik Mehta, who joined the Piscataway Democrats in the lawsuit.
He said he ordered Pinkin to hold the ballot drawing “not because such a draw was statutorily required but because it was necessary in the interest of protecting the integrity of the election process.”
Pinkin’s attorney had argued that she was not obligated to hold a drawing because the slate filed two county commissioner candidates, not a full slate. Toto found that to be “flawed legal reasoning.”
But Toto, in his decision, noted that state election laws are often contradictory.
“The right to a fair election process is more an axiomatic right than a specifically delineated one,” he said.
In turning down Mehta’s request for legal fees, Toto noted that Pinkin never told the Republican candidate that there would be a Republican drawing and that “such a determination was entirely within Defendant’s discretion.”
The legal fees for the Piscataway candidates were reduced by about 40% by the judge.