Nassau Republican legislators have appealed last week's Supreme Court decision in which Judge Joseph P. Spinola nullified a vote making Republican Peter Schmitt presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature. The judge also ordered that the Nassau County Legislature reconvene, with all 19 legislators present, and remain in session until a presiding officer is elected with a minimum 10-vote majority. In his decision, Spinola stated that "it is undisputed that every presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature since its inception in 1995 has been elected with 10 or more votes."
Based on Judge Spinola's Jan. 31 ruling, Judith Jacobs, the presiding officer "hold over," called a legislative meeting for 2 p.m. Feb. 6. At that time, however, neither the Republican legislators nor Democrats Roger Corbin and Lisanne Altmann showed up and, since, without a quorum, no vote can take place, the meeting was recessed. At press time, the meeting had been rescheduled for Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.
The Republican legislators, however, are refusing to meet until their appeal, which was filed late last week, is reviewed and decided upon by the appellate court. Schmitt is "confident the appellate division will overturn" Judge Spinola's decision. "In essence, Judge Spinola was wrong [and his] decision cannot stand and has to be appealed. The wording in the charter is clear [where] it says 'he who has the highest number of votes wins presiding officer and the person from another party with the second highest number of votes is minority leader.' It never mentions 10," said Schmitt, who currently remains the legislature's minority leader.
As it currently stands, the appellate court is expected to hear testimonies from both sides Feb. 8.
Last week's appeal by the Republican Party adds yet another political maneuver to a list that has already grown quite large over the past month and a half. Conflict in the legislature first began in December after a bipartisan coalition between Democrats Corbin and Altmann and Republican legislators was formed in an effort to unseat Jacobs as presiding officer in order to elect Corbin to the top seat. But, on Jan. 3, the day the legislature was expected to vote for presiding officer, Jacobs, a registered Democrat for over 50 years, changed her party affiliation to "blank" and blocked the coalition's attempts to oust her.
While members of the alliance argued that the party change was not valid until the first Tuesday after the November 2006 election, Supreme Court Judge Antonio Brandveen ruled otherwise. Fred Brewington, an attorney representing Corbin and Altmann, has filed a notice of appeal of Judge Brandveen's Jan. 19 court decision and has stated in a previous article, that he will go forth with the appeal regardless of how the presiding officer election pans out.
So, back to the voting room the 19-member legislature went on Jan. 25. Although she was nominated presiding officer at this time, Jacobs stepped aside and supported Democratic Legislator Kevan Abrahams. In doing so, Jacobs was hopeful that the Democratic Party - along with Corbin and Altmann - would unite and support Abrahams so that a Democrat could remain majority leader. Such was not the case and Schmitt was elected presiding officer with nine votes - his own and the other eight Republicans; and Democrat Kevan Abrahams was elected minority leader with eight votes. Schmitt then appointed Roger Corbin, who received two votes - his own and Lisanne Altmann's, as deputy presiding officer (the same position he currently holds) and Altmann was appointed the alternate deputy presiding officer.
Immediately after the vote, however, Judge Spinola issued a temporary stay barring Schmitt from acting in his new title and keeping Jacobs in the top seat as a "hold over." Papers arguing majority versus plurality were filed in State Supreme Court on Jan. 27 and a hearing took place Jan. 30. Judge Spinola's Jan. 31 decision nullified the vote that named Schmitt presiding officer and ordered members of the legislature to reconvene and keep re-voting until one legislator receives the 10-vote majority.
In forming his decision, Spinola referenced sections of the county charter as well as Section 41 of the General Construction Law that "requires a majority of the whole number of the members of a public board or similar body to perform and exercise any power, authority or duty ..." Additionally, he stated that Article IV (A) (2) of Nassau County's Rules of Procedure requires that "unless otherwise provided by law, an ordinance, resolution or local law will require the affirmative vote of 10 members to be passed by the county legislature."
While there is nothing in the county charter that states when the vote for presiding officer must take place, the charter does dictate that the legislature must hold an organizational meeting to set its calendar and form committees by Feb. 1 - which has come and gone. The appeal by the Republican legislators, therefore, could take the vote for presiding officer further into February.
Schmitt, however, assured that the end is near. "This ends next week," he said. "If [Judge Spinola's] decision is reversed, I am the presiding officer. If it isn't, then it takes 10 votes and we will meet and see what happens."