Judge’s Decision Favors Greenwich Registrar DeCaro in Lawsuit over RTC Primary Petitions

On Tuesday a judge in Stamford Superior Court issued a decision in a lawsuit filed in March by Susan Schieffelin, George Hritz, Michael DeVita and Gail Lauridsen against Republican Registrar of Voters Fred DeCaro III.

The court issued its judgment in favor of Mr. DeCaro in the lawsuit which had attempted to “compel” DeCaro to reject primary petitions and to invalidate the March RTC Primaries in Districts 2 and 8.

The judgment was issued two weeks after a one-day trial which included pre-trial briefs by both sides, three hours of direct and cross-examination of DeCaro, oral argument, and post-trial briefs.

In the original complaint the plaintiffs, Ms Schieffelin and Mr. Hritz, were candidates for the RTC in district 2 and Ms Lauridsen and Mr. DeVita were candidates for RTC in district 8. All four were endorsed for RTC seats in their respective districts on Jan 9, 2024.

Their complaint alleged that some time prior to Jan 31 certain residents circulated petitions for the scheduling of a primary election contesting the party endorsed nominees with new candidates in the two districts. Further, that in district 2, one of the people who circulated the petition for the primary was Jill Kelly, who was also a candidate in district 2. The names of the candidates on the district 2 petitions were Ms Kelly, Scott Diddel, Nick Barile and Jill Barile. In district 8 several people circulated petitions for a primary; three of them were Michael Erensen, Janet Freiheit and Caren St. Phillip.

The heart of the complaint asserted that each petition circulated had multiple candidate names including the candidate circulating the petitions, which the plaintiffs said violated Connecticut General Statute 9-410(c).

From the start, DeCaro said he was not aware of any authority granted to a Registrar of Voters or Town Clerk to stop a primary.

The primary was March 5, the day after the complaint was filed.

As a result of the primary, Ms Schieffelin and Mr. Hritz, who were both Jan 9th caucus nominated RTC members in district 2, lost membership in the RTC.

Ms Lauridsen and Mr. DeVita who had also been caucus nominated RTC members for district 8 on Jan 9, won  membership in the RTC.

The votes were close and, after a re-canvass, the moderator determined the original canvas was correct.

At the March 27 RTC meeting, officers were selected for the next two years as well as Greenwich delegates for certain nominating conventions.

The judge in his decision on June 4 noted that even if the court rejected their claims that petitions should have been rejected, Lauridsen and DeVita would still retain their RTC seats based on having won the March 5 primary.

The court dismissed the claims of DeVita and Lauridsen, but entered a judgment in favor of DeCaro in the claims that remained.

In Judge Robert Genuario’s decision, he wrote in part, “Reading the statute as a whole and giving the words their usual and normal meaning while applying fundamental principles of statutory construction, the court must disagree with the plaintiffs.”

The decision went on say “the defendant was correct to accept the petitions and not to reject them.”

After the judge’s ruling in his favor,  Mr. Decaro issued a statement on Wednesday:

“Yesterday the Stamford Superior Court completely vindicated Greenwich’s Registrars of Voters in the case brought by plaintiffs Susan Schieffelin, George Hritz, Gail Lauridsen and Michael Devita.  The plaintiffs had demanded that I reject multiple petitions filed in connection with Greenwich’s Republican Town Committee primaries. The court’s decision makes clear that the plaintiffs misinterpreted Connecticut General Statutes. Procedures followed in Greenwich were found to comply with Connecticut law. The lawsuit is a twin to a State Elections Enforcement Commission Complaint filed by Michael Spilo and Joseph Montanaro.  I expect that the SEEC Complaint will now be dismissed as well.

“This was a positive day for election administration in CT. I had the opportunity to represent conscientious and hard-working Registrars of Voters across Connecticut who work to run free and fair elections for Connecticut’s citizens. The procedures followed in Greenwich which plaintiffs called into question are identical to procedures followed by all Registrars in Connecticut.

“Typically election administrators try to stay out of the news.  Our goal is to run impartial elections, and present accurate results quickly. But when there is a constant drumbeat of accusations and demands to invalidate election contests it is impossible to remain silent while incomplete and incorrect information is blasted in the public square.  Together, we need to reject false claims and stop tearing down the process by which we choose our leaders.  This disturbing trend, which is in no way democratic, patriotic, or accurate, must stop.

“My thanks to Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad who so ably defended me and my office.  Now that the court has found entirely in our favor, I ask that our vindication receive the same coverage as the initial accusations, which have been proven false.”

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Hritz and Ms Schieffelin wrote:

“We believe, respectfully, that the trial court misinterpreted the language of the statute and added additional perspective that is in conflict with the statute’s intent. The election law is designed to preclude a single candidate from overturning the results of a caucus election.

“There are several provisions which:
1. Require petitions for 25% of contested seats to cause a primary
2. Require each petitioning candidate to sign that they agree to initiate a petition
3. Require that petitioning candidates may not collect signatures for other candidates for the same office

“These requirements all go hand in hand. Without such safeguards, there is effectively no reason to hold caucus elections, since primaries will always result. This suit was filed to uphold those principles and because at least one of those primaries resulted in an 8-vote shift that effectuated an RTC leadership change.

“The law is clear on its face yet the trial court found an alternative interpretation that we believe is incorrect. We are exploring our options regarding next steps.”