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Appeals court  tosses Republican in key LI Senate race

ALBANY — State Sen. John Brooks, once considered the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat, might not face any opposition at all on Election Day after a state court rejected a Republican bid to replace a disqualified candidate with another.

The midlevel Appellate Division, in a 4-0 decision, said Republicans couldn’t replace Nick LaLota with Norman Sammut.

LaLota originally was disqualified in May because state courts said he couldn’t run for Senate while simultaneously serving as a Suffolk County elections commissioner. The court also disqualified the petitions the Republicans gathered to get LaLota on the ballot.

Republicans then sought to substitute Sammut, an attorney, for LaLota. But under New York’s election laws, once LaLota’s petitions were disqualified, the GOP had no avenue for installing Sammut. Substitutions can occur only when a legally nominated candidate declines the nomination or dies, the Appellate Division ruled.

“Since we held LaLota’s designating petitions to be invalid, substitution of another candidate is barred by virtue of our prior decision,” the judges wrote.

Republicans can ask New York’s top court, the Court of Appeals, to take up the case. But history shows they would face long odds given the Appellate Division’s unanimous decision.

And without intervention by the Court of Appeals, Brooks (D-Seaford), now in his fourth year in office, would run unopposed in a swing district that covers parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

Suffolk County Republican chairman Jesse Garcia said the party is exploring options, while acknowledging it is difficult to overturn a unanimous Appellate Court decision. He blasted the ruling.

"This court is disenfranchising almost 500,000 voters from a choice in the 8th Senatorial District," Garcia said. "This panel has decided they're going to call the election with a ruling instead of by the ballot box."

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