HARTFORD, CT —When a trial court judge requested a 60-day extension to issue a decision, an attorney representing the Danbury faction of the Independent Party told a panel of six justices Friday that his client objected.
Eliot Gersten, an attorney with Pullman and Comley, who made the argument during a Connecticut Supreme Court hearing said the objection to the request for an extension was simply ignored by the court.
The underlying case is a dispute between the two factions of the Independent Party, which is the third largest party in Connecticut with more than 26,000 members. In the complaint, the Danbury faction sued the Waterbury faction for control of the party and the trial court deemed that the Waterbury faction controlled the party and the ballot line for the 2018 election.
It was Judge Susan Peck’s request for an extension that was the focus of legal arguments Friday.
Peck’s request for the extension back on July 17 also came with a request to the parties to submit additional briefs regarding the courts jurisdiction to the matter.
Gersten said his client respectfully declined the court’s request for additional filings.
“Nevertheless on July 19, 2018 the trial court ordered the parties to submit additional briefs as to whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the matter before it,” Gersten states in his brief. “The court then heard oral argument on the issue of subject matter jurisdiction on Aug. 3, 2018. The court ultimately issued its decision in this case on Aug. 21, 2018—one month after its July 21, 2018 deadline.”
On August 21 Judge Peck decided that the Waterbury faction of the Independent Party and the bylaws it filed in 2010 should prevail in any intra-party dispute. The ruling gave the Waterbury group under the leadership of Mike Telesca and Rocco Frank control of the statewide ballot line for the 2018 election.
The lower court ruling meant the Danbury faction of the party, which the Waterbury faction says has become a proxy for the Republican Party, was not able to make nominations for statewide office.
The trial court decision directed Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to accept statewide nominations only from the Waterbury faction of the Independent Party of Connecticut.
Gersten said the trial lawyers objected to extending the time frame and that the trial court has the burden of producing a decision in a case within 120 days following the end of a civil trial.
Gersten said his clients refused to waive the 120 day statutory time period.
The request for additional briefing in the case came July 17, 2018 in the form of a voicemail from Judge Peck.
William Bloss, an attorney representing the Waterbury faction, said he can’t recall exactly what Judge Peck said when she called to ask for additional briefs to be filed.
Asked by Justice Richard Palmer if it was a request for an “extension or a waiver,” Bloss said he couldn’t recall.
“It was verbal,” Bloss said. “I just have a voicemail message.”
What was clear was the “nobody wanted a mistrial,” Bloss said. “Everybody wanted this to be brought to a conclusion.”
If the Danbury faction had formally objected to extending the 120 day period in which a ruling needs to be made then they would have had to start over and there would not have been a decision about the 2018 ballot line.
Bloss said the issue of the 120 day rule was not raised Aug. 3 during oral arguments on the supplemental briefs.
“It never came up,” Bloss added.
He said the only time it came up was on appeal.
“It’s a voidable judgment if not rendered in a timely fashion,” Gersten argued.
On Friday, the parties agreed there could be any practical relief granted prior to the Nov. 6 election. The ballots for the election have already been printed.
The Waterbury faction already has more than 110 House and Senate candidates on the ballot along with governor, comptroller, attorney general, secretary of the state, and state treasurer.
The Independent Party lost the ballot line for U.S. Senate in 2016 when the two factions nominated two different people for the spot.
In a separate, but related case five justices Friday decided not to grant at least one candidate relief before the election.
A request for ballot access by Rebekah Harriman-Stites, who was endorsed by the Waterbury faction to run in the 106th House District, was denied.
Harriman-Stites was endorsed by the Waterbury faction and Rep. Mitch Bolinsky was endorsed by the Danbury faction.
Merrill refused to put either of their names on the ballot line for the Independent Party line.
Prerna Rao, Harriman-Stites attorney, argued that Merrill was in contempt of Judge Peck’s order to accept only the endorsements of the Waterbury faction.
The justices didn’t rule on the merits of Rao’s argument, but they declined to offer an opinion before the election, which makes it unlikely the Independent Party will have the ballot line in the 106th House District.
Telesca who was in court Friday for oral arguments said they held a convention and Bolinsky showed up but didn’t get the endorsement. The other 12 candidates who were endorsed by the Danbury faction before Peck’s order will retain their spots on the ballot.