State Supreme Court ready for Fairfield special election arguments

FAIRFIELD — Nine months after Kevin Kiley, a Democrat, was seated on the Board of Selection following a special election, the State Supreme Court will hear arguments on Feb. 22 in Hartford to void those election results.

The long saga began in December of 2016 when Republican Selectman Laurie McArdle resigned her seat, one year into a four-year term. As per the charter, another Republican, Edward Bateson, was appointed by the remaining board members — Democratic First Selectman Mike Tetreau and Republican Selectman Chris Tymniak.

A group of Democrats then circulated a petition gathering the required signatures to force a special election, a right they said was afforded under state statutes. When Bateson and Tymniak refused to set a date for a special election, the issue headed to state Superior Court in Bridgeport.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ordered the election be held June 6, over GOP objections, and it was, with Kiley, who’d been on the board previously when he was a registered Republican, beat Bateson.

That did not end the matter, however, as attorney James Baldwin, representing Bateson and Tymniak, and ostensibly the town, filed an appeal with the Appellate Court while also seeking certification to the state Supreme Court. The case was ultimately moved to the higher court, with arguments scheduled for the end of this month.

“We hope that the justices appreciate the wisdom of Judge Bellis’ well-reasoned decision and allow the will of the voters to prevail,” William Burke, an attorney for the Democrats who originally pushed for the election.

No witness testimony is presented to the high court. Instead, attorneys have submitted written briefs and will have 30 minutes to present their argument.

According to the state website, the state Supreme Court does not decide questions of fact, but rather issues of law, “such as the interpretation of a statute.” It then takes several months to issue a ruling.

Baldwin’s argument is that the town’s charter only allows for a special election for the Board of Selectmen if the remaining members are unable to agree on a replacement within 30 days of the vacancy.

The Democrats, however, cite Connecticut General Statute 9-222, with addresses the length of the appointment. It reads, in part, the appointee “shall serve for the portion of the term remaining unexpired or until a special election is called as hereafter provided...”

But Baldwin said since the charter does not mention the length of the term, the person appointed is meant to serve out the remainder of the term. For other elected seats, such as the Board of Finance, the charter indicates that anyone filling a vacancy does so until the next scheduled election, so long as vacancy occurs prior to the close of nominations for that scheduled election. The charter also allows for the Board of Selectmen to call a special election for other board’s vacancies or for residents to petition for a special election.

So far, the town has paid $69,902 to Baldwin for his services, and another $7,329 to attorney Robert Morrin. Initially, Tetreau hired Morrin to represent the town, the Board of Selectmen, and the selectmen as individuals, in the case.

However, Bateson and Tymniak called and held a meeting at which they hired Baldwin. Tetreau contends the ability to call a meeting and hire a town attorney, is given to the first selectman alone according to the charter.

Tetreau has twice sent letters to Baldwin, instructing him to cease his representation of the town. Bellis passed the question as to representation to the Appellate Court.