A state appeals court Tuesday removed from office incumbent Morris County Republican Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom of Washington Township and declared the office vacant, saying that a Superior Court decision that voided the narrow June 2011 primary victory of challenger William “Hank” Lyon was improperly decided.
The ruling set the stage for a new election to fill the post.
“We believe this decision to be flawed on several grounds, we are reviewing our options,” said Nordstrom’s attorney Alan Zakin.
The appeals court reversed the order of Superior Court Assignment Judge Thomas Weisenbeck who, following a contested 2011 Republican primary that showed , called for a
A recount of the June results reduced that margin to six votes, and , claiming voter fraud and that an illegal campaign contribution was made by Lyon's camp.
Weisenbeck ordered the Morris County Republican Committee to hold a special election to choose between Nordstrom and challenger Lyon for the party’s candidate for the November general election.
The committee's .
In the general election, , 45,376 votes to 26,982 votes.
Nordstrom was sworn in for a fifth term on Jan. 1.
“We reverse the Law Division's annulment of Lyon's nomination because of multiple legal errors that materially contributed to the court's ultimate declaration that Lyon's "nomination is null and void,” the court wrote in its opinion released Tuesday.
Jeff Bindle, executive director of the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission, which filed for intervenor status in the case, was delighted by the appeals court decision. In that filing, , and not Superior Court has the authority to rule in issues relating to campaign contribution.
Weisenbeck had ruled hat ELEC’s jurisdiction over contributions applied to general elections, and not primary elections.
“We felt all along that a recent Morris County election should not have been overturned based on alleged violations of campaign finance regulations,’’ said Brindle.
“It is ELEC’s job to determine when such violations exist. Only in extremely rare instances does theagency have the ability to overturn an election. The appellate judges today clearly recognized these facts,” he said.
John Sette, Republican Committee chairman and a member of the county’s board of elections, said the committee will hold a convention within 30 days, as required by law. That was the procedure used last year following Weisenbeck’s ruling that nullified Lyon’s primary election win.
Sette said the winner of the convention would hold the vacant freeholder seat through the end of the unexpired term, to January 2013, when the winners of the November general election are sworn in at the start of their new terms.
The winner of the convention has the choice to file to run for the seat in the upcoming June primary, Sette said. Or they could chose not to run, he said. Either way, the convention winner will hold the seat even if they are not the party’s nominee on the November ballot, he said.
Sette said the appeals court ruling has no impact on the outcome of the November 2011 general election because that election was vacated by today’s decision. Since Nordstrom won that election and the Republicans held the seat, it is up to the Republican convention to fill the seat.
The June primary already has three open freeholder seats as incumbents William Chegwidden of Wharton, John Murphy of Morris Township, and Gene Feyl of Denville are up for re-election.