Fishers Island judgeship challenge lives on

A year ago, Democrat Dan Ross of Mattituck lost his protest run for election as Fishers Island justice, but his challenge to the state law giving that judge a seat on the Southold Town Board is still alive and heading for one final review before New York’s highest court.
The seven-judge state Court of Appeals in Albany has agreed to consider Mr. Ross’ challenge to the 1977 state law creating the dual Town Board/justice position. The case is expected to be considered early next year. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals is not required to hear every case brought before it, so its willingness to consider his is a victory for Mr. Ross.
The court considers cases of a constitutional or statewide significance.
In a related case, state Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner ruled in September 2009 against two Fishers Island residents who challenged Mr. Ross’ candidacy on the basis of his off-island residency, but the judge didn’t address the constitutional question. Only weeks later, the state Appellate Division in Brooklyn ruled against Mr. Ross, which prompted his appeal to the state’s highest court.
Noting the 11 miles separating the island from the rest of Southold, the Appellate Division court ruled it’s appropriate for islanders to have at least one Town Board member with “first-hand knowledge of the unique circumstances and problems faced by Fishers Island residents.”
In taking his case on to the Court of Appeals, Mr. Ross argues that the island’s 290 voters represent just 1.5 percent of the town’s electorate but disproportionately control a sixth of the Town Board’s seats.
Last year, saying he wanted to give himself standing in the lawsuit he planned, the former Democratic councilman ran for election against Republican Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans.  
Ms. Evans won a fifth four-year term, capturing 66 percent of the vote to Mr. Ross’ 34 percent. She has run unopposed in three of her five elections.
Southold Town, which Mr. Ross named as a defendant in the case, has filed papers with the Court of Appeals arguing that the election results left Mr. Ross’ challenge moot. Since he did not win, Mr. Ross “is not aggrieved by the statute he is challenging,” the town said.
Republican Supervisor Scott Russell said Mr. Ross’ candidacy worked against his argument. “Dan proved that you don’t have to live there to run,” said the supervisor. “Anybody can run for that position,”
The town also maintains that with the judgeship decided by a townwide ballot, not only by island voters, Fishers Island does not enjoy a voting advantage.
“They’re but one of 19 election districts,” said Mr. Russell. “The people of Fishers Island aren’t given any more or any less say in the Democratic process.”
Reached Tuesday morning, Mr. Ross said, “I have confidence that the state’s highest court will correct the 1970s legislation that reserved one Town Board seat for 290 people because I would hate to have to take it to Washington.”
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