A Niagara County judge has set the schedule for proceedings in two lawsuits challenging the authority of new state commission – more than a month after the lawsuits were filed.
The Public Campaign Financing Commission, which met publicly for the first time Tuesday, could potentially eliminate fusion voting in New York. The practice allows candidates to run on multiple party lines.
Hoping to pre-empt such a decision, the state’s Conservative and Working Families Parties filed separate but parallel suits in Niagara County Court in late July. However, Conservative Party Executive Committee Member and attorney Ralph Lorigo said the plaintiffs had a “great deal of problems” serving the legal papers and the court wasn’t able to move forward until the last service was done on September 3.
Lorigo said his party’s challenge names roughly 25 different defendants. In particular, it struggled to serve the commission as a body, which he said had no office or address.
He said the party was ultimately allowed to serve the commission indirectly through a substitute service to the governor’s office. Without naming anyone specifically, Lorigo also said they struggled to track down one of the commissioners as well – something he thought was a bit surprising considering this person was an appointee of a high-profile commission.
He speculated people might have been intentionally avoiding service and said it ended up costing the party about $6,000 just to execute. Regardless, Lorigo said the delays caused concern, as the commission is scheduled to make potentially binding recommendations in a report by December 1.
“Time is a very sensitive issue with this lawsuit. We need to get this resolved before they try to make a decision on December 1,” he said.
However, the attorney said the litigation is now on track. Judge Richard Kloch on Monday set a timetable for motions and responses over the course of several weeks in October and the parties are scheduled to make arguments in front of him November 12.
On a separate note, the attorney general’s office confirmed it has recused itself from defending state entities in the case citing “potential conflicts.” It did not say what those conflicts would be but WFP did endorse AG Tish James in the 2018 election.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said it is deferring all comments on the lawsuit to the commission. He said Tuesday he doesn’t feel strongly about fusion voting either way.
Lorigo said he feels confident about the party’s chances for success with the lawsuit given recent rulings a similar pay commission did not have authority to limit outside income for lawmakers and three previous rulings upholding fusion voting in New York’s highest court.