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Appeal filed over Suffolk's term limit law

A last-ditch appeal to preserve Suffolk's term limit law has been filed with the Appellate Division in Brooklyn, a move that if successful could block Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota's re-election to a fourth term this fall.

Bruce Plesser, attorney for plaintiff Peter Nichols, filed papers with the court on Friday, a day after Suffolk County's deadline to appeal ran out.

"The bottom line is the county put down as many road blocks as it could," said Plesser, a former Suffolk assistant district attorney who practices in Florida.

The lawsuit seeks to overturn a ruling by State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo, which barred Nichols, a Suffolk resident, from intervening in the case. Nichols also is appealing Gazzillo's decision striking down the county's 12-year term limit law as it applies to district attorney, sheriff and county clerk. Gazzillo ruled that the county had no authority to impose term limits on offices created by the state constitution.

The renewed legal challenge comes as Suffolk Republicans Tuesday night are scheduled to hold their convention in Holtsville. Spota, Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative, and Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale are expected to be nominated as part of a cross-endorsement deal involving major and minor parties. DeMarco and Pascale are seeking their third terms and would not be immediately affected by the outcome of the suit.

A Spota spokesman said the district attorney had not seen the new appeal and declined to comment. Spota has already received authorization under the Wilson-Pakula law that allows him to run on the ballot lines of the Conservative, Republican and Independence Parties.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he expects the GOP to move ahead with Spota's nomination because, "the state of the law is that he can run." John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Gazzillo had limited Nichols' role in the case to that of a friend of the court, which meant he did not have standing to appeal the judge's decision. Nichols has twice tried to appeal that ruling, but the appeals court would not hear the case while the county notice of appeal was pending, even though the county legislature and County Executive Steve Bellone decided to let Gazzillo's decision stand.

Attorney Ray Perini has raised $160,000 for a potential district attorney run, but said he would only run if Spota can't. Perini said Gazzillo's ruling should be reviewed.

"This is a very important issue that affects the voters of Suffolk," said Perini. "A higher court should look at it."

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