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October 24, 2016
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Judge declines to recuse himself in voter case; board of elections determination submitted

Assistant county attorney Tom Cawley talks with reporters about the case of the challenged Bloomingburg voters.

The court case about the legitimacy of more than 100 voters in the March election in Bloomingburg got off to an surprising start, with an attorney for one of the candidates asking the judge to recuse himself because of the judge’s wife’s social media activities.

The judge, Stephan Schick, is married to Donna Schick, who is a secretary and committee person in the Sullivan County Democratic Committee.

The attorney, John Ciampoli, said that Donna Schick had made some social media entries that seemed to endorse a DVD that portrayed members of the Jewish community in a negative light. (This case is about members of the Hasidic community and whether they improperly registered to vote before the election, but the discussion did not reveal whether the DVD in question targeted the Hasidic Community.)

Ciampoli argued that knowing that Mrs. Schick left these posts, which the judge described as one-word reactions to the DVD, would make a “reasonable person” question the court’s impartiality in this case and thus result in the appearance of a conflict.

The judge disagreed; he said that Ciampoli, who was interpreting the matter in a way that would benefit his client, was not a “reasonable person” in this instance.

He also said that he himself does not use social media, but this is the 21st century, and women and wives have the right to express themselves on social media. He said that if any judge with a relative who ever posted something negative on social media had to recuse himself, then no judge would be able to hear a trial. The judge denied the motion.

The main purpose of the day’s proceedings was to have the Sullivan County Board of Elections (BOE) enter their determinations as to which registrations would stand and which would not. More than 100 voter registrations have been challenged, and it’s clear that if those votes are included in the tally, the Bloomingburg Strong candidates for mayor and trustee positions, who support developer Shalom Lamm and his 396-unit townhouse development will win, and if those votes are blocked, the Rural Heritage candidates, who opposed the development will win. The Rural Heritage candidates issued a statement on social media that the BOE had ruled in their favor.

Judge Schick has said he wants to make a decision in the case before April 7, when the new village officials take office, but Ciampoli asked the judge to dismiss the case, because, he argued repeatedly, the BOE improperly made their determination about the voter registrations after the vote, and that was not allowed.

The attorney for one of the Rural Party candidates responded strongly to that notion. He said, “They got 150 people on the roll with no opportunity to challenge.” He alleged that their thinking in terms of timing was, “If they do the lining up just right, they’ll get their people across the finish line… and no one will have a right to prevent them from stealing an election.”

There was a considerable amount of discussion about whether the BOE determination of the registrations, should be entered into evidence. All four lawyers representing the Bloomingburg Strong candidates and the developer were opposed to allowing it, and two of them formally objected, which prompted the judge to schedule a hearing on the matter.

Several technical arguments were brought up against the determinations, including that there be a separate determination required for each voter, and they could not all be handled at once.

But the lawyer for the BOE, Tom Cawley, called all of the arguments trying to block the BOE’s determinations “spurious,” and he said he had heard no good arguments why the determination should not be entered.

The judge agreed. The hearing was scheduled for April 2.