By Berit Ollestad
Last-minute appointees to Democratic municipal committees will be allowed to vote for a Morris County chairman at Tuesday night’s party convention, a judge ruled Tuesday morning in Morristown.
Mary Dougherty, who is running against Chip Robinson to replace retiring Morris Democratic Chairman Lew Candura, had challenged appointments made to municipal committees on Monday night.
Allowing newcomers to vote for chairperson without ample time to verify their credentials might violate a 2009 state law, Dougherty contended.
But Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury made a distinction between internal party politics and public elections.
“Clearly you have presented me with an interesting case, and judges love interesting cases,” Judge Hansbury said. But, he continued, “I have no doubt in my mind that the statute… does not apply to county committee elections…If I were to apply the statute to the people who were appointed last night, it would disenfranchise the people from voting in this evening’s election.”
Dougherty, who was represented by attorney Daniel Zwillenberg, leads Morristown’s Democratic municipal committee and serves as vice-chair of the county Democratic organization. She said she was pleased to have her question clarified by the judge.
“This is great news,” said Dougherty, the wife of Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty. “We can move forward with the election tonight, and we know we are within the law of the land when we accept votes from committee members this evening. I tried unsuccessfully for close to a month to get answers from my current committee chairperson with no response.”
“She’s the Morristown municipal chair,” Candura said. “We had meetings discussing the process and how it’s done, over and over again. She even appointed one or two people this way. Last Friday afternoon, I get home and there’s someone waiting to serve me these papers.”
Robinson, a lawyer from Lincoln Park and executive director of the county Democrats, also was not happy about the courtroom drama that included him as a defendant.
“I always want to see as much participation as possible among the voters… To be hit with this at the last minute on the eve of voting is inappropriate in my opinion,” said Robinson, adding, “We’ve been doing it this way for years. Lew Candura has been the chairman for 10 years, and this has never been an issue.”
Attorney Richard Dunne represented the Morris Democratic organization.
“I’ll never understand why in this country we are constantly trying to disenfranchise our voters the way we do,” the lawyer said.
Moments after Judge Hansbury announced his decision, everyone was sent scrambling from the Morris County Courthouse by a fire alarm.