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Judge: Thomas Spota can run for fourth term

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota in Hauppauge.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota in Hauppauge. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota is not bound by the county's term-limits law and is free to run for a fourth term next year, a judge ruled Thursday.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo said the county has no authority to impose term limits on offices created by the state constitution. Gazzillo's ruling also frees Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and county Clerk Judith Pascale from term limits.

The district attorney's office declined to comment on the ruling. But Spota's attorney, Kevin Snover of Babylon, said he was "very gratified."

"We were the only county in the state with limits on these offices," Snover said.

County officials did not respond to several requests for comment.

Attorney Ray Perini, who has been raising money to run for district attorney in case Spota is not able to seek re-election, said the county should appeal the ruling.

Perini noted that the state Court of Appeals ruled in another case "that district attorneys are local officers" and not state officials. "Until the issue is heard in the highest court in the state, it's an open issue," said Perini.

He said he will continue to raise money for a possible campaign but will not run against Spota. Both major party leaders have said they will endorse Spota again if he is able to run.

Gazzillo's decision narrowed the possibility of appeal because it denied an attempt by a voter, Peter Nichols, to intervene as a party in the suit. If Gazzillo had allowed Nichols to be a party, he could have appealed the decision even if the county decides not to do so. Now, Nichols has no standing to appeal.

Gazzillo said Nichols' mere status as a Suffolk County voter did not give him the right to intervene in the suit. Gazzillo did, however, convert Nichols' arguments to a friend of the court brief and considered them before rejecting them. Snover said that could make it more difficult for Nichols to appeal the rejection of his attempt to intervene, because Gazzillo already has heard his arguments.

His attorney, Bruce Plesser of Gulfport, Fla., said he had not yet discussed the decision with his client. Nichols' only option, Plesser said, would be to appeal Gazzillo's rejection of his attempt to intervene in the suit.

Gazzillo rejected an argument by the county that said even if Spota, DeMarco and Pascale are considered state officials, they should be bound by the law because they are elected only by county voters.

Gazzillo said that argument went too far. "Carried to its logical conclusion, any member of the state Senate or Assembly whose district is solely within a county's boundaries, as well as all members of a county's judiciary would be susceptible to the rule," Gazzillo wrote.

He added that he was not ruling on the issue of term limits, but only on who had the authority to impose them on state officers.

Suffolk voters in 1993 approved three-term limits for county legislators and other county elected officials, including the district attorney.

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