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Lawsuit filed against judicial cross-endorsements

Attorney Thomas Liotti in Garden City on March

Attorney Thomas Liotti in Garden City on March 12. Photo Credit: Shelby Knowles

Garden City attorney Thomas Liotti, who has represented high-profile clients and helped remove a Nassau County Court judge, is looking to put an end to political party cross-endorsements of judicial candidates.

Liotti on Thursday filed a federal voting rights lawsuit against the Nassau Republican, Democratic and Conservative parties as well as the county and state elections boards, alleging they “conspired and colluded together to deprive registered voters of a freedom of choice in voting rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments of the United States Constituion and the First Amendment’s freedom of association provisions.”

Liotti, who also serves as the Westbury Village justice, contends in the lawsuit that the parties’ cross endorsements “virtually guarantee” the election of candidates who have not previously served on the bench.

Liotti, who filed on his own behalf, cites the expected cross endorsement for Supreme Court this fall of Nassau Democratic elections Commissioner David Gugerty, also the Oyster Bay Democratic leader, and Christopher Ostuni, counsel for the Republican majority on the Nassau County Legislature and son-in-law of former Republican chairman Joseph Mondello, the U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. Neither Gugerty nor Ostuni have served as judges. Gugerty’s wife, Helene Gugerty, is a Nassau County Court judge.

Once elected, judges who were cross endorsed “are beholden to Party leaders and their committees; lobbyists, lawyers and litigants who have supported them,” Liotti wrote in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District. The cross endorsements also guarantee patronage employment of law secretaries, law clerks and other court personnel hired by the cross-endorsed judges, Liotti said.

Liotti asks the court to declare that cross-endorsement agreements are “illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of …. civil rights” and to issue a permanent injunction against cross-endorsements.

Liotti recently represented the estranged wife of former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato in a bitter child custody battle until Liotti was removed from the case by a judge who said Liotti hadn’t acted in the children's’ best interests. Liotti also represented former Nassau Legis. Roger Corbin, who was charged with tax evasion, and attempted unsuccessfully to enjoin Newsday and other media from using photos of Corbin in handcuffs. Liotti also filed complaints against former Nassau County Court Judge Marc Mogil, who was removed for improper judicial conduct.

Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, who is also the state Democratic chairman, said he hadn’t seen Liotti’s lawsuit, but said cross-endorsements “by all accounts, … comply with current law and it is fairly settled law.”

Michael Deery, spokesman for Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo, said, “The Nassau Republican Committee is committed to selecting the best qualified judicial candidates and the lawsuit is without merit.”

Nassau Conservative Party Chairman Dan Donovan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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