Suffolk’s Republican Elections Commissioner Nicholas LaLota filed a complaint Tuesday against State Supreme Court Justice John Leo with the state Judicial Conduct Commission, claiming the judge’s actions in a recent elections case was “reprehensible and demonstrated a clear bias” toward him.
LaLota, in three-page letter, said Leo’s actions put him at “an extremely unfair disadvantage” because he refused to even consider recusing himself from the case even after admitting he had a close relations with Democratic attorneys in the case who had supported his election and given money to his judicial campaign. “He should have recused himself,” LaLota said. “Justice Leo’s friends and political allies should not be appearing in front of him on election law cases.”
Leo declined to comment Tuesday night on LaLota’s complaint.
LaLota’s complaint stems from a last minute lawsuit he filed to throw out the Conservative Party’s certificate of nomination for Democrat Julie Lofstad in the recent Southampton town board special election. The suit was dismissed, but Leo also took the unusual step of ordering a hearing on whether LaLota should be sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit. That hearing ended without Leo imposing a sanction but LaLota’s attorney made an agreement on LaLota’s behalf for handling future election cases differently.
Anita Katz, Democratic elections commissioner who sought sanctions against LaLota, declined to comment Tuesday night. During the suit, however, her attorney maintained that LaLota’s lawsuit reversed his positions with no legal basis, improperly sued Katz and ignored Leo’s suggestion that he appear at an unusual Saturday hearing so he could justify his reversal.
However, the GOP elections commissioner also called it “frankly outrageous” that Leo, in a ruling “dripping with sarcasm” scheduled a sanctions hearing for failing to appear at a hearing when he “specifically told my attorney that I did not have to attend.” He said he instead provided an affidavit because he feared “my testimony was only designed to embarrass me.”
LaLota also maintained there’s body of case law that sanctions “are generally inappropriate” in election law cases because they have to be heard in an expedited fashion.
LaLota claims the bias against him stems from the fact that he managed the 2013 Huntington Republican town campaign, the place where Leo was a longtime town attorney and frequent Democratic elections lawyer. “The Democrats have not forgotten or forgiven me for my efforts to end their decades of control of the Huntington town board,” LaLota said.
Lawrence Silverman, Katz’s attorney, said LaLota had a right to appeal the decision, including Leo’s stand on recusal, but had agreed not to.
“Judge Leo was kind enough to overlook the fatal overreaching that took place based on Commissioner LaLota’s agreement not to do it again,” Silverman said. “The bottom line is he should be grateful he was not sanctioned. If Judge Leo was biased, he would not have let him off the hook so easily,”