The Suffolk County GOP filed court papers to uphold the county's term limit law on Friday, April 2, claiming Democratic candidate for Suffolk County Legislative 3rd District Kate Browning cannot serve another term.
The Supreme Court of Suffolk County decided Monday, April 26 in favor of the GOP to annul the candidacy of Browning, ordering her name be removed from the ballot. The Hon. James Hudson interpreted the county charter article as serving no more than 12 years. The decision also suggested the court review the county code to reflect a more readable code similar to the Town of Brookhaven, which states: “[…] regardless of whether said terms are served consecutively or nonconsecutively.”
Prior to the decision, in response to the lawsuit, the Suffolk County Dems filed a memo dating back to August 1993 from former counsel to the Legislature Paul Sabatino stating the nature of the term limits.
“It should be noted that a legislator could serve 12 consecutive years, not serve for a year or more as a county legislator and then be reelected and serve up to another 12 consecutive years,” the memo reads. “The only caveat is that there be an interruption in the county service. This provision tends to be more equitable than lifetime bans on legislative service once the operative threshold period is hit.”
However, an affirmation was submitted via Sabatino, the former counsel, stating that the intent of the legislature was to impose a lifetime ban once 12 consecutive years of service have been obtained.
According to the courts, the submitted memorandum was attached to a prior proposed bill on term limits. But, the actual, adopted bill that became law had a different language attached to it. Still, the courts wrote they did not consider any of Sabatino’s statements in the case.
Hudson ultimately wrote, that the interpretation of the law is that “no person shall service as County Legislator for more than 12 consecutive years” as “no person shall serve more than.” The word “consecutive,” he wrote, should be viewed as a “word of limitation and not as an invitation to run for office in the future.”
The Suffolk County Dems said they would be filing an appeal, also pointing out that Hon. Hudson is a Republican-appointed acting supreme court justice.
“We are appealing this decision and are confident we will win at the appellate division,” said Keith Davies, campaign manager for the Kate Browning Campaign. “The memo that Republican Judge Hudson decided not to consider, for reasons we can only begin to speculate, makes the intent of the law clear.”
Davies explained that he and Browning believe that the law is clear, and it states that a legislator can serve for 12 years, take a year off, and then come back and continue to serve.
“Kate’s campaign of rooting out corruption will persist and Kate will win the Special Election on May 25,” he added.
Suffolk County Republican Party chairman Jesse Garcia said that he believes people voted for term limits and the attempt to get around it, he said, is a “power play.”
“Thankfully, the New York State Supreme Court upheld the integrity of the term limit law, passed by referendum in 1993, so that the sinister subversion attempted by Kate Browning was not carried out,” he said after the decision was made. “The Suffolk County Republican Committee initiated this litigation in protection of the will of the people and term limits. This is a win for all 1.5 million residents of Suffolk County, regardless of political affiliation or philosophy and a defeat to career politicians who look for loopholes instead of doing service to the people.”
Republican candidate for the seat, James Mazzarella, said his full attention is focused on the issues and challenges facing the middle-class families and business of the district.
“My interests are the people and families of this district those arguing the case or looking for loopholes will argue in court,” he said of the lawsuit. “I am focused on the issues that matter to the residents.”
In 1993, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a term limit law that was put before the voters and passed on the ballot in November, limiting legislators to 12 years. The law reads: “No person shall serve as a county legislator for more than 12 consecutive years.”
Former Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning was term-limited in 2017 after 12 years in office. She went on to run in a Democratic primary to challenge Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin in 2018. She is currently the director of code enforcement for the Town of Babylon.
Earlier this year, Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic-Shirley) announced that he would be stepping down as of March 21 to pursue a career in the fire/EMS field as the Suffolk County Fire Academy director. Sunderman’s resignation was officially approved by the Suffolk County Legislature effective March 21. Pursuant to law, the vacancy must be filled by a special election to be held within 90 days, scheduled for May 25.
According to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, details of the location for the vote have not yet been finalized. However, those wishing to request an absentee ballot can do so online at: Absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov.