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Morris County Freeholder Appeal Takes an Interesting Turn

Howes & Howes has been following the Morris County Freeholder election contest very closely.  The case has provided a lot of drama and several insights into the New Jersey election laws.  The latest bombshell in the case came today (October 5) when the Appellate Division allowed the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to intervene in the case, adding another twist to this unique case.

Most candidates look forward to election day because it usually marks the end of a very busy, very chaotic and very stressful campaign.  For better or worse, the results come in, and everybody moves on.  Well, that’s not always the case.  In the Republican primary for Morris County Freeholder, the votes came in and were counted four months ago, yet the election is still up in the air. 

After the primary, Twenty-three year old challenger Hank Lyon held a very slight lead on four term incumbent Margaret Lyon.  Ms. Lyon pursued both a recount and an election contest.  After a very contentious trial, the trial judge found that Mr. Lyon had violated campaign finance laws.  Based on the violation, and a finding that the violations had an impact on the outcome of the primary, the court voided Mr. Lyon’s nomination, and ordered the Morris County Republican Committee to meet and vote on the nominee.

The Morris County GOP met.  Ms. Nordstrom won the nomination by a vote of 213-208 over Mr. Lyon.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lyon appealed the trial court’s decision.

Soon after Mr. Lyon’s attorney perfected the appeal, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) moved before the Appellate Division to allow ELEC to intervene as a party in the appeal.  ELEC is the division of the executive branch of the state government that administers the campaign finance laws.  The Appellate Division has now granted the motion.  ELEC will participate in the appeal.  Presumably ELEC will file a brief and make oral argument.  This provides another interesting turn because ELEC has made the following statements in its legal papers in this case:

“The lower Court’s ruling has the strong potential to negatively affect the Commission’s legislative mandate of primary jurisdiction, resulting in the public’s and the regulated community’s inability to rely upon the Commission’s uniform administration of the Campaign Reporting Act.” ELEC further argued, “If the lower court’s ruling stands, it would subject candidates and committees to inconsistent application of the Campaign Reporting Act in enforcement actions dependent on the forum where the matter is adjudciated.”

This language suggests that perhaps ELEC will argue that the trial court did not have the jurisdiction to determine campaign finance violations, and therefore did not have the authority to void this nomination.  The Appellate Division will receive transcripts and briefs on an expedited basis, and hear oral argument in January 2012.  Howes & Howes will continue to follow this unique case.


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