Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter was unable to beat back a legal challenge to his Independence Party nominating petitions. A court today ruled in favor of his challenger Laura Jens-Smith. File photos: Denise Civiletti

Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith will have the Independence Party line on the November ballot.

A State Supreme Court judge today ruled in her favor in the action she brought challenging signatures on Supervisor Sean Walter’s Independence Party petitions.

Both supervisor candidates filed petitions seeking the Independence Party line. A minimum of 61 valid signatures was needed to qualify for the ballot. Walter submitted a total of 67 signatures on his petitions and his challenger successfully got eight of them tossed by the court.

Judge Joseph Santorelli ruled invalid some of Walter’s signatures because the voters in question had already signed Jens-Smith’s petition and others because the voters were not registered members of the Independence Party, according to Riverhead Democratic Committee chairwoman Marjorie Acevedo.

“When I heard there were only 67 signatures and you need 61, I knew I was going to go line by line,” with the intention of finding signatures to challenge, Acevedo said in an interview. The effort bore fruit.

“Judge Santorelli’s ruling was right on target. Supervisor Walter’s petitions were filled with mistakes and he should have known better,” Acevedo said.

“Having that Independence line is great for my candidate,” Acevedo said. Jens-Smith’s name will appear on the Democratic, Working Families, Independence and Women’s Equality lines in November.

The Independence Party endorsed Republican incumbent Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Democratic candidate Catherine Kent. No challenges were filed against either of their petitions.

Jens-Smith said tonight she is proud to have the Independence Party line and believes it will help her win in November.

Walter said the loss stings but doesn’t believe it will make a difference in the election.

“I’m not overly concerned about it,” he said. “If I could win two years ago purely on the Conservative line, losing the Independence line is nowhere near fatal.” Besides, he said, as “an independent guy” he considers himself “the poster child” for the Independence Party.

He said he “made the mistake of relying on other people to turn those petitions in” — something he had never done before.

“I’d always gotten double the amount of signatures required,” Walter said. “It’s kind of interesting that the Democrats clearly seem to have a better organization right now. They were able to put this together and the Republicans were not.”

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