Both sides in special election dispute wait on state Supreme Court
Updated 3:14 pm, Thursday, April 6, 2017
Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis issued an order last month instructing the town to hold the special election on June 6, in response to a suit filed by five Democrats. The five sought the court order when the GOP majority on the Board of Selectmen refused to set a date for a special election after Democrats, acting under state statutes, collected more than the requisite amount of petition signatures.
Republican Selectmen Chris Tymniak and Ed Bateson claim the town charter does not allow for a special election because the vacancy on the board was filled within 30 days. Republican Laurie McArdle resigned her seat Dec. 6, one year into a four-year term, and Tymniak and First Selectman Mike Tetreau voted on Dec. 7 to appoint Bateson.
James Baldwin, who represents the town and the Board of Selectmen, filed for certification by the Supreme Court late on March 30. He said he expects to have an answer as to whether the appeal will be accepted by the Supreme Court by Friday.
He said the appeal was filed under a state statute designed to be only in very particular matters. “It’s often used in election cases,” Baldwin said, “like when an election is ordered, or a person is ordered off a ballot.”
Baldwin said the certification request he filed is reviewed by the Chief Justice, and a decision is supposed to made within a week of filing.
“The sooner, the better,” Baldwin said, when asked about the timing for a hearing and decision, if his request is accepted. “People want to know the ultimate conclusion.”
He said his review of similar cases shows that briefs have been required within about two weeks and oral arguments held within 30 days at the Supreme Court in Hartford. Rulings are often delivered from the bench, Baldwin said.
The Democrats also want to know if the Supreme Court plans to hear the case but are hopeful the current ruling will be allowed to stand.
“Over 3,000 voters in Fairfield signed petitions requesting a special election to fill the balance of the term after Selectman McArdle resigned,” said William Burke, who along with Joel Green, is representing the plaintiffs. “The Superior Court ordered that the voters’ request be honored. We hope that if the Supreme Court decides to review the matter, it also allows the voters of Fairfield to chose the selectman.”
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Steve Sheinberg, one of the five plaintiffs, said the Republicans are continuing to obstruct the law and the voters. “They selectively obey the charter,” Sheinberg said. “There was no Board of Selectmen meeting or agenda item to authorize the appeal. They continue to cost the town money.”
Sheinberg called the Supreme Court appeal a desperate move. “We will win in court again,” he said.
Baldwin said he was authorized by the selectmen to fight the court ruling all the way to the state Supreme Court, if necessary, at a special Board of Selectmen meeting called by Tymniak and Bateson, in which Tetreau chose not to participate. Tetreau, a Democrat, has argued that under the charter, only he can call a special meeting.
“It was discussed on so many different occasions,” Baldwin said. “I was given the green light to do everything that was necessary to prosecute our defense of the law up to the Supreme Court. That was the situation.”
Baldwin also said that it merely takes a majority of any board or commission to call a special meeting. The chairman of a board or commission, he said, is not a dictator.
Both parties selected candidates for the contested seat, although Republicans did so while voicing skepticism as to whether there would actually end up being an election. Bateson was the only person who sought, and received, the GOP nomination. Former Republican and former selectman Kevin Kiley was also unopposed in seeking the DTC endorsement.