CAMDEN COUNTY CLERK SUED BY DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGERS
Complaint alleges that Ripa, Schmidt, and Orlando acted unlawfully
[CHERRY HILL, NJ, April 11, 2019] A lawsuit filed today asserts that Camden County Clerk
Joseph Ripa illegally removed freeholder candidates running against his allies, Freeholders
Carmen Rodriguez and Ed McDonnell, from the Democratic primary ballot, preventing a
truly contested Democratic primary election in Camden County this June.
Today Democratic Camden County Clerk candidate Rena Margulis, and Democratic
Freeholder Candidates Jennifer O’Donnell and Michael Lovett, who all filed nominating
papers to run as “Democrats of Camden County” in the June 4, 2019 Democratic Primary
Election, brought a lawsuit against Ripa, Deputy County Clerk John Schmidt, and County
Counsel Christopher Orlando. The suit asserts that the defendants unlawfully invalidated
the freeholder candidacy of O’Donnell, a Gloucester Township school board member, and
her running mate Michael Lovett, an HVAC construction superintendent with Steamfitters
Local 420, and Haddon Township resident.
According to the court filing, O’Donnell and Lovett fulfilled all necessary statutory
requirements to run for office, including obtaining more than double the required 100
signatures of Camden County Democratic voters.
Notwithstanding, incumbent Democratic Freeholder candidates Rodriguez and McDonnell
and the Camden County Democratic Committee, Inc., urged Ripa to disqualify O’Donnell and
Lovett’s candidacy, citing a handful of signatures on nominating petitions collected by
O’Donnell’s former running mate Jerome Taylor, an activist and community leader of
Camden City. Taylor, a veteran whose son was murdered in Camden in February, has
resigned his freeholder candidacy, and Lovett has stepped in as O’Donnell’s running mate,
as contemplated by the Election Law which provides for a “Committee on Vacancies” to choose a substitute candidate in the case of candidate death or resignation.
The complaint asserts that Ripa’s Office’s decision to invalidate the candidacy of O’Donnell
and Lovett — who fulfilled all Election Law requirements to be on the ballot and who are
innocent of any allegation of wrongdoing — on the basis of an undisclosed number of
signatures collected by former candidate Taylor which Ripa’s Office deemed suspect
without providing any proof, is unprecedented and punitive.
The complaint further alleges that Ripa, Schmidt, and Orlando acted unlawfully and
infringed upon the constitutional political association rights of the plaintiffs and over 100
Camden County residents who filed nominating petitions in nine towns countywide to run
for Democratic County Committee and local offices in the same bracket or column on the
ballot with O’Donnell and Lovett as “Democrats of Camden County.”
The plaintiffs have asked for a Superior Court judge to decide the matter on an expedited
basis so they can avoid prejudice to their rights as candidates and to the rights of the over
100 candidates who requested to bracket with them as “Democrats of Camden County.”
Late today, Camden County Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel denied the order to show
cause. The ballot drawing by the County Clerk is scheduled for 3 pm tomorrow, April 12.
The complaint also accuses the defendants of ignoring a challenge to several signatures
appearing to have been written in the “same hand” on nominating petitions circulated by
Democratic county clerk candidate Mohammad Kabir and purported Democratic freeholder
candidate Steven Panarello. Panarello’s nominating petition included signatures of
members of the Camden County Democratic Committee, Inc., Carmen Scarduzio and Joseph
According to the complaint, the defendants caused an “investigation by a law enforcement
agency” to look into signatures collected by the former freeholder candidate and aggrieved
father, Jerome Taylor, who is African American. Meanwhile, the defendants appeared to
launch no such investigation into a challenge made against Kabir’s obviously “same hand”
signatures or the “same hand” signatures collected by Panarello, a candidate having the
support of members of the very same Camden County Democratic Committee Inc. whose
challenge to Taylor’s petitions was granted by Ripa’s Office.
Ripa himself is on this year’s democratic primary ballot. He is being challenged by plaintiff
Rena Margulis of Cherry Hill, and as a result of Ripa’s action, Margulis will have much
inferior ballot position, as the Freeholder candidates are the linchpin of candidate brackets
(columns). Margulis has a private professional practice in myofascial therapy. She manages
the Facebook group Cherry Hill United, which sheds light on the actions of local governing
bodies and officials. She is a former board member of Amnesty International USA.
The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Wittman of Haddon Township.
South Jersey Progressive Democrats is a grassroots organization working to restore democracy
to South Jersey. We stand for transparent, accountable government that works for the people.
STATEMENT BY THE COUNTY:
“The Camden County Clerk’s Office was compelled to reject the petitions in question based on fact that an investigation was done by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and signatures were found to be fraudulently obtained. In regard to the lawsuit, it is baseless considering the facts that are already available and the investigation that has already been completed outlining the actions in question.” – Dan Keashen
An additional quote:
“The conclusion by Judge Michael Kassel to dismiss this case without the county even having to represent itself or weigh into the matter further underscores the meritless claim that was put forward by these litigants. Again this was a case that was used to defend a fraudulent act investigated by the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office in regard to faulty signatures for a petition to be placed on the ballot. The Camden County Clerk’s Office fully respects the decision of the court and will move forward with the ballot process.” – Dan Keashen, county spokesman.