The Appellate Division in Brooklyn, upholding a lower-court ruling, has declared Democratic state Senate primary contender Joseph Fritz's petitions invalid, throwing him off the ballot for the Sept. 9 primary.
The five-judge panel, which heard the case Monday, ruled unanimously that state Supreme Court Justice John Leo "properly invalidated" Fritz's petitions because there were "numerous instances of unexplained and uninitialed alterations to the dates on numerous signature lines," many on petitions the candidate himself collected.
The appeals court also said that when Fritz testified in a court hearing "he did not provide adequate explanation for the uninitialed changes and we decline to disturb the Supreme Court's finding that his testimony was 'unreliable, not tenable and not worthy of belief.' "
Fritz, a Brentwood lawyer who was planning to run in the 3rd State Senate District, originally filed 1,403 signatures and the Suffolk Board of Elections found that Fritz had 1,160 eligible signatures. But, although Leo found that Fritz had 1,002 legitimate signatures, two more than the minimum, Fritz also had more than 40 signatures that were altered without his initials to authorize the change, making the petitions "permeated with irregularities and fraud and thus invalid."
Fritz said Wednesday he is disappointed and is weighing an appeal, but concedes he would need special permission from the Court of Appeals due to the unanimous appellate ruling. Fritz, who has run five times for public office, attributed his petition lapses, in part, to the fact he was caring for his wife, who is suffering from cancer. "There was no malicious intent," he said. "But it seems that perfection is necessary. The strong will always prey on the one with less resources."
Michael Fricchione, campaign manager of Fritz opponent Adrienne Esposito of Patchogue, said: "What lawyer Joe Fritz does in court is his own business. Adrienne Esposito has been knocking on doors talking to voters about real property tax relief for Suffolk families."
In a separate case, the appellate division upheld a lower-court ruling validating the petitions of two Republican district court candidates -- Walter Long of Dix Hills and Paul Sensor, Northport Village justice, seeking to run a primary on the Independence Party line.
Republican District Court Judge Stephen Hackeling's petitions were earlier upheld in state Supreme Court, but Democrats did not appeal the lower court decision on his petitions because he had collected more signatures on his own than the other two GOP candidates.