Suffolk weighs appeal in term-limits case

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota speaks to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota speaks to the Suffolk County Legislature in Hauppauge. (April 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Suffolk lawmakers on Wednesday will face the politically charged issue of whether to appeal a court ruling that threw out part of the county's 12-year term limit for elected officials and could free Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota to run for a fourth term next year.

The sensitive measure comes up for its first test Wednesday in the county legislature's Ways and Means Committee. The resolution faces an uncertain future in the full legislature, with 12 of the 18 county lawmakers saying they oppose the appeal in light of the county's fiscal problems.

Legis. Rick Montano (D-Brentwood), the committee chairman, is sponsoring a resolution directing the county to appeal.

"How can you pass a law and not defend it?" Montano said of the term limits law. "As committee chairman, I cannot sit idly by and not follow through on a case with major constitutional issues -- a state Supreme Court Justice is not where it should end."

But Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said, "I don't see a lot of support" for an appeal.

"The county is in a fiscal crisis and this is a time for us to be careful with taxpayer money," said Romaine, who was elected Brookhaven Town Supervisor last week but is expected to remain a legislator through the Nov. 20 legislative meeting.

Montano's resolution follows a ruling by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo in September that the county had no authority to impose term limits on the district attorney, county sheriff and county clerk because their offices were created under the state constitution.

A 1993 law passed by the county legislature and approved by public referendum sets a 12-year term limit on all elected county officials including the county executive, the 18 legislators, comptroller, treasurer and the offices now held by Spota, County Clerk Judith Pascale and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco.

But attorney Raymond Perini, who is interested in running for district attorney should Spota not run, said Gazzillo in his decision noted the lawsuit contains issues that have not been dealt with before in a court case. Perini said the county legislature should "respect the voters who wanted term limits" by appealing the case.

John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, said Montano filed the resolution as "political retribution" because the prosecutor refused to agree to investigate Republican Assemb. Philip Boyle during their recent State Senate race, which Boyle won.

Montano said he has done no lobbying for his proposal and will only ask that the resolution be voted out of committee without recommendation so the issue can go to the entire legislature.

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