Trenton, NJ – On Friday January 29, 2021, Hon, Mary Jacobson awarded legal fees in the groundbreaking lawsuit brought by Central Jersey Progressive Democrats (CJPD), that successfully ended Middlesex County’s history of restricting county committee seats for political party based on sex and gender identity. Judge Jacobson had previously ruled on an emergent basis in favor of CJPD. She directed former Middlesex County Clerk Elaine M. Flynn to create gender-neutral ballots in races where nine plaintiffs ran in the 2019 County Committee races without adhering to the one-man, one-woman rule. She ruled again in 2020 for permanent relief, effectively ending the rule in the County and establishing a precedent for others around New Jersey to follow. Newly elected Middlesex County Clerk Nancy Pinkin continued to oppose the plaintiffs’ motions, carrying forward the office’s opposition to allowing two women to run together and preventing non-binary candidates from running at all.
“This case could have been prevented, and could have settled out of court. Instead of being on the right side of history, and saving taxpayer funds, the former and the current Clerks dragged this case out. Judge Jacobson already ruled that the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were violated pursuant to the NJ Civil Rights Act. That Act allows for attorney fees to prevailing parties. The purpose of fee-shifting is to ensure that the people or organizations most likely to suffer and best positioned to right constitutional harms are able to avail themselves of their rights by accessing competent counsel. This case clearly qualified, and the Middlesex Clerk should not have claimed otherwise on the taxpayers’ dime,” said Yael Bromberg, Esq. counsel for plaintiffs.
A grassroots, entirely volunteer organization founded in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election, CJPD candidates sought and won committee seats in the Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) in 2017 and again in 2019. The MCDO responded to election competition and unfettered access to the ballot for all people, regardless of sex or gender identity, by voting in a secret ballot last year to postpone the next election and extend its members’ terms of office by two years. The previous clerk, Elaine M. Flynn, and the current clerk Nancy Pinkin received endorsements from the MCDO and ran on the organization’s “County Line.” The County Line is now the subject of a separate lawsuit in federal court.
“Both the gender equity case and the County Line case seek the same thing: to democratize the ballot. Our nation suffered a constitutional stress test the last four years. CJPD will continue to advocate for democracy at every level as the best way to prevent a return to the last four years. We are proud to champion both of these efforts as we continue to fight for democracy and inclusion everywhere,” said CJPD’s Kamuela “Nikki” Tillman. Ms. Tillman, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, ran for a gender neutral seat in 2019 and won.