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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Appellate ruling in Suffolk Conservatives’ case

An appeals court said the party’s executive committee illegally filled vacant committee positions.

The appellate division has ruled the Suffolk Conservative executive committee illegally filled vacant committee positions before the 2016 county convention that elected Frank Tinari as party chairman.

But party officials say the ruling does not change the outcome of the leadership vote.

The four-judge panel in Brooklyn ruled unanimously that the action by the party’s executive committee, which occurred after the Sept. 13, 2016, primary, was improper because only an executive committee, named by committee members elected in that primary, had the power to fill vacancies.

The action of the executive committee, which was elected in 2014, “undermines the election results of the 2016 primary election, and is inconsistent with case law limiting the authority of the 2014 executive committee” between the primary and the party convention.

Conservative insurgents say the ruling has statewide implications, and is the first step toward reversing Tinari’s election.

“The good news is that no one is going to be allowed to stuff the ballot box and retain power like a monarch,” said Kenneth Auerbach, who challenged Tinari for party leader.

“The appellate court dealt with one issue,” said Tinari. “It does not affect the convention and does not address the leadership election.”

The appellate ruling is part of a multipronged court battle between Tinari forces and dissidents who say the party is still under the control of ex-Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, who is in federal prison after his conviction on corruption charges.

In March, state Supreme Court Justice J. Emmett Murphy in Westchester upheld Tinari’s election, finding the lawsuit that claimed fraud and irregularities was “not legally sufficient.” Auerbach also has challenged that ruling to the appellate division.

In his ruling Wednesday, Murphy said certified election results showed Tinari won 425 to 263 over Auerbach among committee members who attended the convention. The results also showed Tinari won the weighted gubernatorial vote, 6,668-4,712.

Committee members’ convention votes are weighted based on the number of votes the party received in each election district in the last gubernatorial election. Murphy said the issue of improper committee appointments “appears to be moot” because Tinari would have won even if the 118 disputed committee posts were excluded.

However, Auerbach said the roll call vote was on a procedural issue, not the leadership, and no one calculated the impact of the weighted vote of the 118 disputed committee members.

“My hope is that everyone recognizes that we have to follow a democratic process and hold a convention with the people who are elected and not appointed illegally,” said Auerbach.

Tinari predicted Murphy’s ruling will be upheld on appeal.

“I’m confident our brief is strong and we will ultimately be successful,” Tinari said.

Paul Sabatino, an attorney and a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive, said the ruling “could be a watershed moment” for courts, which rarely meddle in internal party matters.

“It means that the appellate judges may be more willing to take a careful look at what goes on inside a political party,” Sabatino said.

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