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Appellate court disqualifies LaLota in key LI State Senate race

Suffolk's Republican elections commissioner Nick LaLota on

Suffolk's Republican elections commissioner Nick LaLota on  Nov. 13, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

ALBANY — A court has dealt Republicans a huge blow in a key State Senate race on Long Island, disqualifying Nick LaLota from the ballot.

 LaLota was nominated by the GOP nominee to take on Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) in a swing district that covers parts of Suffolk and Nassau counties. But in a ruling handed down late Thursday, the midlevel Appellate Division unanimously ruled that LaLota could not appear in the ballot while simultaneously serving as a Suffolk County elections commissioner

The court said state statute clearly prohibits such a scenario, based on a potential conflict of interest: a commissioner overseeing the tally of a race he’s trying to win. 

The court ordered the state Board of Elections to remove LaLota from the ballot. He said Friday afternoon he will ask New York's top court to hear his appeal.

When LaLota was nominated, Democrats filed suit, saying an elections commissioner can’t run in a race that his office oversees. LaLota countered by saying he was taking a leave of absence from his job, which he contended would eliminate the conflict of interest.

But the Appellate Division, in a 4-0 ruling, said that wasn’t good enough.

“Status as commissioner the linchpin of the disqualification to be a candidate, not whether the commissioner is actually performing any of the duties of an election commissioner at any particular time,” the court wrote in a 4-0 opinion handed down late Thursday.

Further, LaLota hurt his own argument by penning a memo saying his leave of absence could be revoked at any time. That document “implicitly acknowledged that he has retained his authority as commissioner,” the judges said.

LaLota can ask New York’s top court to hear his case, though a 4-0 midlevel decision historically doesn’t bode well for his chances.

In saying he'd appeal, LaLota referred to a lower court ruling in his favor: "We believe the Supreme Court in Nassau was right and the Appellate Division in Brooklyn was wrong.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Republicans would try other legal avenues to remove LaLota and substitute an alternate.

Suffolk GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia and Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo disagreed with the court's decision and are "considering all legal options," spokesman Mike Deery said. 

Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer said the “law is clear” and LaLota’s leave of absence tactic “made no sense.”

 “You can’t run for office and still be in charge of counting the votes of the office you’re running for,” Schaffer said.

He added about the ruling: “We’re very happy because it shows no one is above the law, including Nick LaLota.”

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