Republican primary challenger Raymond Perini asked appellate judges Tuesday to rule on Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota's eligibility to run for a fourth term under Suffolk's 12-year term-limit law, which also is under review by a separate appeals panel.
In a half-hour hearing in Brooklyn before four Appellate Division judges, Perini's attorney, Martin Connor, said their case is the proper forum to raise Spota's eligibility to serve another term. Connor noted that the other case is not set for a hearing until Sept. 6, four days before the primary.
"This is an election law case, we have a right to challenge the eligibility and it has a priority over other cases," Connor said. "What's wrong with getting an appellate review of a constitutional issue?"
Connor said an earlier State Supreme Court ruling striking down term limits for Spota came at a time when Spota had not yet decided to run, and was essentially "an advisory opinion."
Connor said it is uncertain whether the pending appeal will be heard on the merits because the appeals court first must find that the plaintiff, civic leader Peter Nichols, has a right to intervene.
Spota attorney Thomas Garry said the district attorney, a Democrat, is a legal candidate under the existing Supreme Court ruling. Spota has the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Independence Party endorsements.
"This is an attempt to remove Mr. Spota from the ballot," Garry said. "I don't blame Mr. Perini for not wanting to run against Tom Spota. I would avoid it, too."
Perini said after the hearing that Democrats and Spota tried to stall the effort to appeal the original decision by State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo so Spota could run unopposed.
"Spota was looking for a political edge, too," Perini said. He said that if he wins the case, "at least we'll have a race for district attorney in November and give the voters a choice."
Spota declined to comment.
Spota, County Clerk Judith Pascale and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco filed a court challenge to the Suffolk term-limit law. Gazzillo ruled late last year that the county could not impose term limits because the posts are in the state constitution.
Garry said Nichols' appeal should go forward, and that Perini's challenge is flawed because the sheriff and county clerk are necessary parties who should be involved in any legal challenge to Gazzillo's decision.