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New York’s top court ruled Thursday that Suffolk County’s term-limits law doesn’t apply to the office of district attorney – clearing the way for District Attorney Thomas Spota to run for a fourth term this fall.
The Court of Appeals, in a 6-1 decision, upheld two lower court decisions in Spota’s favor.
Spota, a Democrat, was first elected in 2001. GOP challenger Ray Perini, a criminal attorney, had filed a lawsuit claiming that a Suffolk County that limits officeholders to 12 years applied to Spota. But the incumbent countered that a district attorney was a state constitutional officer whose term can't be set by a county legislature.
The high court agreed.
“Permitting county legislators to impose term limits on the office of district attorney would have the potential to impair the independence of that office because it would empower a local legislative body to effectively end the tenure of an incumbent district attorney whose investigatory or prosecutorial actions were unpopular or contrary to the interests of county legislators,” the majority wrote. “The state has a fundamental and overriding interest in ensuring the integrity and independence of the office of district attorney.”
Spota, who has been endorsed by the Democrat, Republican, Independence and Conservative parties, will now face Perini in a Sept. 10 Republican primary.