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Spota sues over Suffolk term limit law

Suffolk County District attorney Thomas Spota in his

Suffolk County District attorney Thomas Spota in his Hauppauge office. (Dec. 16, 2011) Photo Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, who is term-limited and will not be able to seek re-election next year, has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court challenging the legality of the county's term limit law.

Spota, a Democrat, is joined in the suit by Conservative Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale, in claiming the 1993 law restricting Suffolk's elected officials to a maximum of 12 years in office cannot apply to them. They are "quasi-state officers," so their jobs and terms cannot be altered or limited by local law, the suit asserts.

"The home rule provisions of New York State law do not provide the authority for Suffolk County to create and impose term limits on the office of District Attorney, Sheriff and County Clerk as those offices represent responsibilities which are substantially state concerns," according to court papers filed by attorney Kevin Snover.

The suit contesting the county law does not challenge term limits for other countywide elected officials -- the county executive, treasurer or comptroller -- or Suffolk's 18 lawmakers. All are limited to 12 consecutive years in office.

The lawsuit comes as Spota approaches his own limit in 2013. DeMarco and Pascale are in the middle of their second four-year terms.

"The lawsuit is not about the pros and cons of term limits," said Robert Clifford, a Spota spokesman. "It's about righting a wrong from 20 years ago."

DeMarco said he does not oppose term limits, but added, "This is a constitutional issue."

Pascale did not return calls for comment.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman and Babylon Town supervisor, said he "absolutely supports" the suit. "As an attorney who has looked at the research, it's clear the county did not enact term limits for these three offices correctly," he said.

Schaffer said the only way to impose term limits on the three officials is to amend the state constitution with a measure that would affect the three posts in all 62 New York counties. That measure would have to be approved in two separate legislative sessions and in a referendum of voters statewide.

John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, said he is "firmly in support of term limits," though the issue in the lawsuit is whether the county legislature acted legally. "This a matter for the courts and not a political issue," he said. "We'll . . . accept whatever decision the court makes."

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