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Suffolk Conservative Party dissidents get court win

A state appeals court handed an out-of-power faction a second legal win in recent months.

An appellate court has ruled that the Suffolk Conservative Committee board should not have filled vacancies ahead of its 2016 party convention, handing an out-of-power insurgent faction its second legal win in recent months.

Kenneth Auerbach, a Brookhaven Conservative who lost a contested election for county Conservative chairman in September 2016 to Frank Tinari, said he would ask a state Supreme Court justice to set a new convention date within 60 days for a leadership vote by elected committee members.

“It’s everything we’ve been saying all along in terms of it being rigged. It was rigged,” Auerbach said of the 2016 convention.

But Tinari said the decision, released Wednesday, addresses only one part of a lower court’s decision that dismissed Auerbach’s petition.

Tinari said his election and that of the executive committee stands.

“We see this as a validation of the convention and how the convention was conducted,” he said. “I look forward to advancing the work of the party during the upcoming election cycle.”

In March 2017, Supreme Court Justice J. Emmett Murphy in Westchester upheld Tinari’s election, finding the lawsuit that claimed fraud and irregularities was “not legally sufficient.”

In a unanimous decision by a four-judge panel, the appellate court said the lower court should have denied the motion to dismiss.

“Contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, election law . . . does not confer upon the Executive Committee of the Suffolk County Committee of the Conservative Party of New York State the authority to fill vacancies in the county committee,” the appeals court said.

In January, the appellate division ruled that the Suffolk Conservative executive committee illegally filled vacant committee positions before the 2016 county convention that elected Tinari as party chairman.

This week’s appellate ruling comes during a court battle between Tinari allies and dissidents, who say the county party still is under the control of ex-Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, who is serving a federal prison sentence after his conviction on corruption charges.

After contested primary elections for committee seats in 2016, Tinari convened the 2014 executive committee to appoint members to vacant committee seats ahead of the September convention. Tinari was declared the victor at the convention in a voice vote.

Committee secretary Michael Torres certified that of the 688 people who voted, 425 voted for Tinari and 263 voted for Auerbach. The weighted vote tally, based on voters in the last gubernatorial election, was 6,668 for Tinari and 4,712 for Auerbach.

Auerbach and other insurgents sued.

Paul Sabatino, an attorney and a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive, said the decision was clearly a victory for Auerbach’s camp.

“The appellate division for the first time in 40 years is actually looking at rules and statutes of political parties,” Sabatino said.

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