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Lower court denies 3 groups control of Women's Equality Party

ALBANY - A state judge ruled Monday that the Women's Equality Party created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo can't nominate more candidates and refused to turn over operation of the minor party to any of the three groups vying for control.

Three groups sought to control the Women's Equality Party: Cuomo through his surrogates, former state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk of Schenectady and a group of Republican candidates.

State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso in Niagara County denied the groups' efforts, saying the other Democrats on the minor party's 2014 ballot -- Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman -- need to work with Cuomo, also a Democrat, to certify a set of rules for the party to continue to operate.

The judge found none of the groups had the support of a majority of the 2014 candidates.

An appeal is expected.

Cuomo created the party in 2014 as he attempted to frame his re-election campaign around women's issues, including a provision to better protect late-term abortions. The minor party, which mounted a bus tour, sought to undercut Republican gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino, although no efforts were underway to erode abortion rights in the state at the time and Astorino proposed no changes.

No challenges to abortion laws were proposed in the 2015 legislative session. Nine other bills to protect women in the workplace and to protect them against crimes were passed after the abortion measure was de-linked from the women's equality act. The state Senate's Republican majority passed the nine points, as it had done before the 2014 elections.

Referring to the groups seeking control of the minor party, the judge stated in the decision dated Monday: "The inevitable conclusion is that none of them can be declared to be vested with any rights found under the election law with respect to the nomination of candidates."

The judge didn't get into the accusations that Republicans and a group not affiliated with Cuomo were trying to co-opt the party founded by the governor.

 "It was alleged that some groups may be insincere in their intentions of organizing the WEP," the decision stated. "However, it is not this court's property place to investigate the potential reasons any particular group of individuals may choose to organize for the WEP."

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