Connecticut’s Supreme Court declined Friday to overturn a lower court ruling striking a group of municipal Independent Party candidates from the ballot in Danbury, where two factions have submitted competing candidate slates.
The high court affirmed the ruling from the bench after more than an hour of oral arguments in an appeal of a Danbury Superior Court decision which ordered the removal of candidates including Republican Mayor Dean Esposito and Town Clerk Janice Giegler from the minor party’s ballot line.
“After consideration of the briefs filed, review of the records and today’s arguments this court affirms the decision of the trial court,” Chief Justice Richard Robinson said after the justices conferred behind closed doors. “As to the pending motions for review, review is granted but relief requested therein is denied.”
The court also terminated a stay, which Superior Court Judge Maximino Medina Jr. had issued on his order to strike the candidates from the ballot in an effort to allow the high court time to review his decision. That means Danbury officials will be required to begin producing ballots without the Independent Party candidates.
The case landed in front of the court when Giegler’s attorney, Proloy Das, appealed Medina’s ruling, after the judge sided with Democratic mayoral candidate Roberto Alves, who sued the town clerk, arguing she broke the law by rejecting an earlier slate of candidates that included the Democrat while submitting to state officials a second slate that included the Republicans.
Throughout the argument, Das argued that Giegler had little choice but to submit the Esposito slate, given that Independent Party of Danbury Chair Veasna Rouen had vetoed the Alves slate and endorsed the second group of candidates.
“She was faithful executing electoral duties when she presented to the secretary of the state the only valid nomination she received and, by the way, if she didn’t do that and did what the plaintiffs are asking to do — which was nullify the line — an entire political party in Danbury would have been disenfranchised,” Das said.
Meanwhile, Alves’ attorney, Christopher Mattei, argued that the town clerk had overstepped her authority by rejecting a slate that had been certified by the earlier caucus.
“What she did fell so far outside the bounds of what that duty allows, by essentially choosing one slate, which Judge Medina found was clearly defective for lack of a certificate, and rejecting another slate that she had in her possession contrary to the advice of the secretary of the state,” he said.
In the lower court ruling, Medina concluded that neither group of candidates should appear on the minor party line, finding that the Esposito faction had failed to certify their nominations while the Alves group had not complied with notification requirements.
During Friday’s arguments, Mattei disputed the notification conclusion and asked the justices to place the Alves slate on the ballot.
However, justices seemed skeptical from the outset of intervening in the Independent Party’s affairs.
At one point in the proceedings, Eugene Glouzgal, an attorney for Independent Party chair Rouen, attempted to cast the Alves faction as interlopers affecting a coup of the minor party.
“Plaintiff wants to ignore the actions of certain individuals who registered independent only two days before attempting their caucus coup of August 11 and their sole goal of depriving the Independent Party of Danbury of their ballot line,” Glouzgal said.
Robinson, the chief justice, interrupted to ask whether state law or the party’s own bylaws even prevented such an attempt.
“Why would it matter to the court?” Robinson asked. “See, the thing that I am concerned about is meddling in the affairs of a political party. We shouldn’t be doing that. So in order to prevent that you have bylaws and things of that nature. If they don’t prohibit it, how are we going to do that?”
Those bylaws also came under criticism by the court. At one point, Das tried to make an argument using interchangeable terms based on the Independent Party’s bylaws, some of which predate a legal schism in the party eventually decided in another court case in 2018. Justice Andrew McDonald seemed to grow frustrated with the state of the party’s rulebook.
“This is really fast and loose stuff here,” McDonald said. “This is a messy record, these bylaws could have been — I’ve seen better ones for high school clubs. I mean this is really kind of shameful material to rely a whole legal argument upon.”
Robinson said a full Supreme Court opinion would follow Friday’s decision.