Spota files petition in term limits case

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside the Suffolk County Legislature Building in Hauppauge. Photo Credit: James Carbone

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Suffolk's District Attorney, Thomas Spota, is looking to throw out the county's term limit law so he can seek another term next year. His attorney is fighting just as hard to throw out a potential intervenor, who would have the latitude to appeal any decision favorable to the veteran prosecutor.

Kevin Snover, Spota's attorney, filed papers in the last week looking to keep Huntington resident Peter Nichols, who describes himself as a supporter of term limits, from entering a case in which the legal foes look more like political allies.

In his legal papers, Snover has filed for a summary judgment and moved to bar Nichols from becoming a party in the case, claiming he "fails to come close to demonstrating a sufficient basis to actively intervene" in the lawsuit.

"Nichols . . . can claim no real and substantial personal interest particularly where . . . every voter in Suffolk County could claim the same basis and seek to intervene -- which would obviously cause substantial delay and bring nothing to the table" in the county's defense of the law, Snover said.

However, attorney Bruce Plesser, representing Nichols, in court papers said the current 12-year term law is "valid and constitutional" and his client is "directly affected by the outcome of the case and is not adequately represented" by a term-limited county executive or legislature.

"The executive and legislators . . . have an inescapable conflict of interest," Plesser argues in court papers. "[They have] . . . a very strong interest in allowing [the] term limit statute to be struck down thus eroding the basis for the rest of the law and empowering them to alter it or eliminate it."

Snover maintains there is no impact on other officials because the lawsuit only deals with the offices of district attorney, sheriff and county clerk, jobs in the state constitution over which he claims local officials do not have the power to impose term limits.

However, Plesser says the constitution only sets the terms for those jobs, adding that the state's highest court has upheld the right to abolish the sheriff's office in Westchester, a far more dramatic change than term limits.

Nearly all in the case have political connections. Snover, who represents Spota, and Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale and Conservative Vincent DeMarco, also shares law offices with Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman and a strong supporter of Spota.

The county, meanwhile, has hired Stuart Besin, a former Democratic Huntington Town board member, to uphold the county law. He was appointed by County Attorney Dennis Cohen, who in turn works for Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, a strong Schaffer ally.

Even Plesser, who now works out of Gulfport, Fla., has his own ties. For 20 years he was a Suffolk assistant district attorney who once worked for former narcotics prosecutor Ray Perini, a Republican who has already raised $170,000 for a district attorney run, but says he will be a candidate only if Spota is term-limited and cannot run.

"The reality is that there is politics in all of this," Plesser said. "It's not brain surgery that everyone has an agenda."

While Perini is a longtime friend and has talked to him often about the case, Plesser said Perini did not get him involved. He said Nichols came to him after several lawyers in Suffolk balked at getting involved. Nichols, 48, of Melville, a Republican who ran a losing 2009 race for town supervisor on the Conservative line, did not return calls for comment.

Perini, who also comes from Huntington, said he does not know Nichols and played no part in launching the challenge. But he called the suit a "very serious issue" that will impact "the people who overwhelmingly voted for it -- the citizens of Suffolk County."

Paul Sabatino, who drafted the 1993 term limit law, agreed: "Intervention could be critically important to keep the spotlight and voter scrutiny on these proceedings."

The case is now before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo, a Conservative, who is expected to get final papers by mid-July.

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