Janison: Appeals sought in term-limit case

Peter Nichols Jr. and his lawyer are trying Peter Nichols Jr. and his lawyer are trying to defend Suffolk County's term-limit law as enacted. Photo Credit: Richard Slattery (2009)

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997, initially as a staff writer for the New ...

Has a flaw in Suffolk's term limit law been fixed -- or is it just that the political fix is in?

Lawyer Bruce Plesser seems to subscribe to the latter position. "This is the biggest power play I've ever heard of in the history of Suffolk County," he declared Friday.

The background: In September, state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo voided the county's law imposing term limits on the offices of District Attorney Thomas Spota, a Democrat, Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative, and County Clerk Judith Pascale, a Republican, who all argued in one lawsuit that their jobs' inclusion in the state constitution makes them immune to this local 12-year limit.

Powerful party forces are arrayed against an appeal. A measure sponsored by Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Central Islip) to have the county pursue one has been tabled in committee. Some lawmakers, and County Executive Steve Bellone, have cited expense for a rationale.

On Nov. 14, Bellone stated in a letter to Stuart Besen, the private attorney for the county in the case: "I am writing to inform you that I do not wish to pursue any further litigation in Spota v. The County of Suffolk. I do not believe it warrants any additional expenditure of taxpayer dollars."

Plaintiffs' lawyer Kevin Snover, who won the Gazzillo ruling, has an office in the North Babylon building where Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has his law practice. Spota and the others retained Snover using campaign funds.

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Opponent Plesser represents Peter Nichols of Huntington, who tried to become an intervenor in the case to help defend the law as enacted but was denied by Gazzillo. Now Plesser and Nichols want the state appellate division to overturn that exclusion, on the chance that a higher court may want to put its stamp on a hot constitutional question.

Besen previously told Newsday he's only billed between $3,000 and $4,000. Plesser, calling the cost concerns "a joke," offers: "If the county allows me to represent it pro bono, I'd do so." Bellone spokesman Jon Schneider responded Friday: "If he wants to present that, I'd talk to the county attorney."

Suffolk's three-term limit was enacted by referendum in 1993, and defenders argue that another public vote is required to change it. Some suspect that if this ruling stands, a move to kill term limits for county legislators and others would follow.

Montano said: "Even if Judge Gazzillo is right on the law, it's still a case of such magnitude, it needs to go all the way through the judicial process. To try to stall it is inappropriate."

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