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Judge tosses Mason Haas lawsuit against Riverhead Town

09/23/2015 3:38 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Mason Haas in his office in Town Hall.

A state Supreme Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit last week filed by Town Assessor Mason Haas, which sought to overturn a town law enacted earlier this summer that prevented a political party chairman from also holding elective office. 

Mr. Haas, who had stepped down as chairman of the party the night before the ruling was issued, said Wednesday morning he will not appeal the court’s decision, instead opting to remain one of 44 Republican committeemen in the town while spending some time with a grandson who was born last winter.

“Although disappointed in the decision we will respect it,” he said in a statement issued to the press. “Now I continue to forward to help bring our slate to victory.”

The assessor — one of three in town — stepped into the GOP chairman role in September 2011, six months after he had screened for the Republican nomination for supervisor. The committee opted to choose the incumbent Sean Walter to lead the ticket at the time.

Earlier this year, the committee under the leadership of Mr. Haas went with new blood for its nomination, choosing Councilwoman Jodi Giglio over Mr. Walter.

Mr. Walter, with votes from Councilman James Wooten and outgoing Councilman George Gabrielsen, spearheaded a law this summer that prohibited elected officials from also serving as party leaders. The supervisor has stated that the intent of the law wasn’t retribution for not getting the party nod.

Mr. Haas, claiming his constitutional rights were being violated, filed suit against the town in response. A temporary lifting of the law was thrown out the day after Mr. Haas lost his title as party chair — and in fact, the suit was thrown out entirely, which surprised Mr. Haas’ attorney, Lane Bubka.

“It did surprise me that the judge decided to dismiss the case outright rather than give us the opportunity to litigate the issue,” Mr. Bubka said on Wednesday. Beside the legal argument against it, he also questioned the need for it at all.

“If the voters thought it was inappropriate, they can simply not vote the candidate into office. You don’t need a law to make the decision for them,” he said.

However, he added that the law could still be challenged on its legal merits in the future. While Mr. Haas’ case centered around the harm done to him personally, Mr. Bubka said it could be challenged on the basis it does harm to the town as a whole, or someone else who finds him or herself in a similar position.

In the Sept. 17 ruling, Judge Paul Baisley stated: “the constitutionality of laws that prohibit public office holders from simultaneously holding certain political offices is well established. Courts have uniformly held that a restriction on holding high office within a political party does not unduly burden public holders’ right of political association, as such individuals may still associate with whatever party they prefer and engage in a broad range of political activities short of leadership roles.”

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