Passaic County Assignment Judge Ernest Caposela will issue an injunction to stop Paterson Councilman-elect Alex Mendez from taking his seat at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning, citing voters’ loss in confidence about the election’s results.
“There’s so many irregularities with this election that I think the public trust trumps everything. I really do,” the judge said. “I don’t see how I can let the people of Paterson happily accept the fact that this was a fair and free election and that it was a full expression of their intent. I don’t see how I can do that right now.”
Mendez, Paterson Councilman Michael Jackson and others associated with their campaign have been accused of accused of fraud in casting mail-in votes, unauthorized possession of ballots, tampering with public records, and falsifying or tampering with records.
Mendez also faces charges of election fraud and false registration.
The judge set a hearing to determine whether the results of the city’s May 12 election for Aug. 31. The delay is to provide Passaic County’s overburdened election officials enough time to conduct business related to the July primaries, which won’t have their results certified until July 24.
“I’m talking about all these irregularities in this election, no matter who was responsible for it. It’s not perceived as a fair election,” Caposela said. “I don’t need statutory authority to make that determination. There is no statutory authority for this specific reason. It’s left up to the discretion of the court.”
Gregg Paster, Mendez’ attorney, argued there was little proof of election fraud, repeating a claim that hundreds of apparently harvested ballots found tied together in city mailboxes could not have fit into the box, a claim previously made by the councilman-elect’s campaign
“There is no way that dozens or hundreds of ballots could be deposited in a mailbox,” Paster said. “Somebody on the Postal Service side compiled these ballots because there’s no possible physical way of getting a bundle of more than three or four ballots into a box at once.”
Scott Salmon, who is representing Councilman Bill McKoy, argued that the court must stop Mendez from taking his seat on the council to keep confidence in the city’s elections high.
“I think it’s far more important to get this right than to get it quick,” Salmon said. “It’s important to seat those who have been properly elected, but it is more important to get these elections and get this process correct. That way, we can maintain confidence in the system, which frankly, I don’t see how that could possibly exist at this point.”
Representatives from the Office of the Attorney General and the City of Paterson also took part in the hearing Tuesday morning.