There may not be a Republican Party primary election in the First Legislative District after all.
A Suffolk County trial court judge has thrown out county legislative candidate Greg Williams’ designating petition, ruling that signatures on his petition were not properly witnessed.
Williams, of Cutchogue, a former Southold Town trustee, is seeking the Republican Party nomination for the First Legislative District seat being vacated by Legislator Al Krupski.
Williams mounted a challenge to the candidate backed by the county Republican committee, Catherine Stark of Riverhead, hoping to force a party primary election for the Republican line. The primary election takes place June 27.
Candidates must qualify for the party designation by gathering signatures on designating petitions. If more than one candidate qualifies by filing petitions with the required number of valid signatures, the candidate is selected by party members in a primary election.
Stark challenged signatures on Williams’ petition, alleging the petition is “permeated with fraud and must be found invalid,” due to “false and fraudulent” statements in the document.
State Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo ruled in Stark’s favor yesterday, finding that a witness who signed the petition falsely stated on the petition that four of the people who signed the petition she witnessed did so in her presence.
The witness in question is the candidate’s wife, Karen Williams. Three of the four people whose signatures were challenged testified that Karen Williams was nearby when Greg Williams obtained their signatures, but not in a position to actually witness the signing. The fourth individual testified that he did not recognize Karen Williams as a person present when he signed the petition.
State Election Law requires signatures on designating petitions to be witnessed. Rules for who can be a witness and how signatures must be witnessed include a mandatory witness statement that says the people who signed the petition placed their signatures on the document in the presence of the witness and identified themselves to be the individual who signed the petition. The witness statement is “accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit and, if it contains a material false statement, shall subject me to the same penalties as if I had been duly sworn.”
The court ruled that Karen Williams did not comply with these requirements.
It also held that the candidate, who procured the signatures in question, was “was chargeable with knowledge of the fraudulent manner in which certain signatures were procured” — in other words, the candidate knew or was in a position to know that the witness was not actually able to see the individuals signing their names to the petition, despite signing a statement to the contrary.
“The Court is mindful that the omission in all probability was caused by inexperience in the process,” the judge wrote. “Nonetheless, the Court is duty-bound to follow the law.”
The ruling effectively prevents Williams’ name from appearing on the ballot, and so dispenses with the need for a Republican primary election in the First Legislative District.
Williams has the option to appeal the trial court’s decision to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Darryl Fox, attorney for Greg Williams, declined comment.
“On behalf of Ms. Stark, we’re very pleased that the integrity of the election process has been upheld in this instance,” Steven Losquadro, attorney for Stark, said in a phone interview today. “Anyone who is a candidate or wishes to be a candidate must follow the law and must represent honestly and openly the facts of the petition process to the Suffolk County board of elections.”
In a statement issued this afternoon, Republican Party Chairman Jesse Garcia said the court’s decision is “a victory for the people of the First Legislative District, and for the integrity of our electoral process.” He said Williams has “very clearly demonstrated that he is unfit to serve in public office.”
Garcia said Williams displayed “a desperate, self-interested attempt to run for office” that “reeks of the same self-interest displayed by George Santos.” He said as party chairman he is committed to “never permitting an insurgent to bring the National Democrat party’s tactics of cheating in elections to interfere with fair and proper elections” in Suffolk. The party’s lawyers would refer the matter to the Suffolk County District Attorney, Garcia said.
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