Riverhead Town’s controversial ethics code amendment has been upheld by a State Supreme Court judge.
In an order signed Sept. 17, Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley dismissed the lawsuit brought against the town last month by town tax assessor Mason Haas.
Haas, who was the Riverhead Town Republican Committee chairman, challenged the constitutionality of a July 21 code amendment banning elected officials from serving in party leadership posts. He was the only elected official affected by the code change and argued that he was targeted by the town board as political payback for the committee declining to nominate two incumbents, Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman James Wooten, for re-election.
“The constitutionality of laws that prohibit high public officeholders from simultaneously holding certain political offices is well established,” the court wrote. “Courts have uniformly held that a restriction on holding high office within a political party does not unduly burden public office holders’ right of political association,as such individuals may still associate with whatever party they prefer and engage in a broad range of political activities short of leadership roles.”
The court found that Haas “asserted no compelling legal authority for his contention that the local law should be declared unconstitutional and should not be enforced against him.”
“The fact that petitioner is allegedly the only public official presently affected by the law does not give rise to a claim of due process or equal protection violations,” the court ruled. “Moreover, the fact that other jurisdictions do not presently prohibit the activity proscribed by the Town of Riverhead’s local law does not provide a legal or factual basis for deeming the law unconstitutional.”
The code change took effect Sept. 1.
Haas has since stepped aside as party leader. He announced at the town Republican committee’s Sept. 16 annual organizational meeting that he would not seek re-election to the chairmanship post. The committee elected a new leader, Remy Bell.
“Although disappointed in the decision, we will respect it. I know from the dedication of the 40 committee members not on the exec board there is so much you can do to help your party,” Haas said this morning.
Still, he questioned the town board’s motivation. “In my heart I will always feel a change like this should never strip a party of their chair so close to the term end, without reason. Every Riverhead Republican should wonder the same,” he said.
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