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Wood v. County of Cortland

State of New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division Third Judicial Department


April 29, 2010

IN THE MATTER OF WILLIAM J. WOOD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHAIR OF THE CORTLAND COUNTY DEMOCRATIC COMMITTEE, APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF CORTLAND ET AL., RESPONDENTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spain, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Calendar Date: March 22, 2010

Before: Cardona, P.J., Mercure, Spain and Kavanagh, JJ.

Appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court (Rumsey, J.), entered February 18, 2009 in Cortland County, which, among other things, partially dismissed petitioner's application, in a proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78, to review a determination of respondent Cortland County Legislature appointing Thomas Brown to the office of Cortland County Democratic Election Commissioner for a two-year term commencing January 1, 2009.

Petitioner held the office of Cortland County Democratic Election Commissioner for the term of January 1, 2007 through December 31, 2008. As his term was coming to a close, petitioner sought reappointment. Election commissioners are appointed by the county legislative body on the recommendation of the party county committee of each major political party (see Election Law § 3-204 [1], [2], [4]). Accordingly, in June 2008, the Cortland County Democratic Committee (hereinafter CCDC) submitted to respondent Cortland County Legislature the proper certificate recommending petitioner for the upcoming two-year term beginning January 1, 2009. The Legislature failed to act on the recommendation within the 30 days provided by statute, giving the members of the Legislature who are from the party that submitted the certificate (here the Democratic caucus) 30 additional days to appoint the nominee (see Election Law § 3-204 [4]). When the Democratic caucus failed to act within the additional 30 days,*fn1 the CCDC filed a second certificate recommending Mary Leonard for appointment (see Election Law § 3-204 [4]). Again, the relevant statutory period elapsed without any action on this recommendation by either the Legislature or the Democratic caucus and, on December 8, 2008, the CCDC submitted a certificate again recommending petitioner, but the Legislature rejected this as an improper submission. Having no further recommendations before it, on December 11, 2008 the Democratic caucus, in a resolution that was separately adopted by the Legislature, chose Thomas Brown to the position beginning on January 1, 2009.

At that time, the Legislature also resolved to immediately remove petitioner from office because he was allegedly in violation of Cortland County ethics rules. Petitioner then commenced this proceeding to have his removal from office, as well as Brown's appointment, annulled. In a well-reasoned decision, Supreme Court granted petitioner's application to the extent that he sought annulment of his removal from office for ethics violations but, finding that the Legislature had authority to appoint an Election Commissioner where, as here, the procedural mechanism for appointment established by Election Law § 3-204 was followed to completion but did not result in an appointment, it rejected petitioner's challenge to Brown's appointment. On petitioner's appeal, we now affirm.

We fully concur with Supreme Court's conclusion that, after neither person recommended by the CDCC was appointed by the process specified in Election Law § 3-204 (4), "the Legislature was required to fulfill its constitutionally based duty to appoint an Election Commissioner, which it did [by appointing Thomas Brown] on December 11, 2008" (see Ryan v Albany County Democratic Comm., 68 AD2d 1014, 1015 [1979], mod 47 NY2d 963 [1979]). Further, we need not address petitioner's contention that a third certificate of recommendation is authorized by Election Law § 3-204 (4) because the third certificate filed here, in December 2008, was not filed within 90 days of the filing of the previous certificate (naming Leonard and filed on August 29, 2008) and, thus, was untimely.*fn2 In any event, the third certificate -- again naming petitioner -- was defective in that it did not name a person "different" from "the persons named in . . . the certificates [previously] filed" by the CCDC (Election Law § 3-204 [4]). Accordingly, the December 8, 2008 certificate was not valid and the Legislature was free to appoint any eligible person (see Election Law § 3-204 [4]; see also Matter of Thomas v Wells, 288 NY 155, 157 [1942]; Ryan v Albany County Democratic Comm., 68 AD2d at 1015).

Cardona, P.J., Mercure and Kavanagh, JJ., concur.

ORDERED that the judgment is affirmed, without costs.


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