Update: The judge ruled in favor of an open convention, siding with arguments made by Senator Scutari’s legal team.
ELIZABETH – Moments ago, Superior Court Judge Katherine Dupuis retreated into her chambers, presumably to decide how members of the Union County Democratic Committee will be able to vote tomorrow at a special convention in the Gran Centurions in Clark.
Democrats will pick a county party chair from among the following candidates: Acting Chair Colleeen Mahr, state Senator Nick Scutari, or Hillside Democratic Committee Chairman Anthony Salters.
Noting that the organization hasn’t had a contested election of this kind for 40 years, Mahr wants a machine vote at the convention.
Scutari favors an open hand vote, in keeping with the declared bylaws of the county committee.
Attorney Ed Kologi of represented Scutari’s point of view.
“They have waxed poetic over pages and pages,” Kologi said, referring to his opponents, attorney Bill Northgrave, representing Mahr; and attorney Mal’ee L. Wing representing Salters.
But what they have offered is conjecture, Kologi argued, not fact, about how an open process would impair the integrity of the process.
“The vote should be open,” the attorney argued, in keeping with the bylaws.
“She [Mahr] says there would be a logistical nightmare to tabulate votes, but there is absolutely no evidence of a problem,” Kologi said. “Nothing but a subjective viewpoint on how it should be handled.”
Kologi requested that the judge rule in favor of an open vote.
Northgrave then rose.
“We are looking for a vote that everyone will be able to say once they have left the room, that this is a fair result,” said the attorney arguing on behalf of Mahr.
At a meeting earlier this month among 28 county party committee members, they took two hours to come up with a time, place and date for the special convention.
As it stands, a vote to be ascertained among three rooms at the Centurions would spell bedlam, Northgrave argued.
The judge signaled her predilection early.
“It doesn’t seem as impossible as you describe,” she observed.
During her argument, Wing mentioned what she described as “the elephant in the room.”
“Voter intimidation,” she told the judge.
Of the some 800 total possible party committee people, about 100 are employed by state, county, or municipal government.
She acknowledged the presence in the room of Union County Freeholder Bruce Bergen, a plaintiff aligned with Scutari.
Salters told Wing that county committee people said they would support him but did not feel comfortable with a hand vote.
People should be able to vote “without fear of reprisal,” the attorney argued.
Someone like Bergen could lower the hammer on a county employee if they don’t vote as expected.
Judge Dupuis seemed to be leaning in favor of Kologi, but told the court that she did not want to issue a ruling in favor, and then have Northgrave and Wing counter sue, which would only prolong the committee’s prospects at being able to have a committee vote as early as the scheduled Feb. 21st vote.
She beckoned the attorneys into her chambers, then moments later, reappearing, told the court that she would use the next hour to hopefully come to a conclusion as Scutari allies began text messaging victory.
Above, from left: Kologi, Northgrave, and Wing.