District Attorney challenger petitions under court review

Gwen Chamberlain
District Attorney challenger Todd Casella and incumbent Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner.

The race for Yates County District Attorney is taking a detour through the courtroom.

Decisions by Yates County Election Commissioners will be ruled upon Aug. 7 at the Hall of Justice in Rochester, where a Supreme Court Justice will review documents related to Todd J. Casella’s residence in addition to the commissioner’s rulings.

On July 26 Yates County Election Commissioners Robert Brechko (D) and Amy Daines (R) ruled that three petitions filed by Todd J. Casella in his bid for the Yates County District Attorney position are either invalid or null and void.

The commissioners also ruled against the objection filed by Penne Marchionda to Casella’s Republican petition. She has filed the court documents arguing that election documents filed with Casella’s petitions contained three different Hammondsport addresses. Marchionda’s court documents assert that all Casella petitions that do not report his address as Shethar Street must be invalidated.

But that’s not all. Casella has filed similar documents in Supreme Court in relation to the commissioner’s rulings in his Independence and Reform petitions. Casella’s filing will be heard Aug. 7 as well.

Republican Election Commissioner Amy Daines says a quick decision from the court will be helpful because they would like to know what names to include on the military ballots for the Primary election, which must be mailed next Friday, Aug. 11.

If the judge agrees with Marchionda that Casella’s Republican petitions are invalid because they contain conflicting information about Casella’s place of residence, then his name will not appear on the Republican Primary Ballot. In that case, if Casella’s attempt to have the judge overturn the commissioner’s determination on his Independence and Reform petitions fails, his name will only appear on a Nov. 7 general election ballot if he secures 332 signatures on independent petitions. Casella’s campaign spokesperson has not indicated if Casella is passing independent petitions (not to be confused with Independence Party petitions, which have already been filed).

Casella’s petitions were the subject of a public hearing on July 26 after Marchionda objected to the Republican, Independence Party, Reform, and Conservative documents filed earlier this month.

Casella, who is a Steuben County Assistant District Attorney living in Hammondsport, is challenging Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner for the four-year term. In his campaign press releases and in response to follow-up questions, Casella strongly criticized Gardner over forgeries by a campaign worker on some of the petitions filed on her behalf for last year’s race for Yates County Judge. That campaign worker pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation and community service. Gardner was unaware of those forgeries until she was notified by election commissioners of a challenge to some of the signatures.

The commissioners ruled July 26 that:

• Casella’s Conservative Party petition was null and void because Casella had not secured authorization to run on the Conservative Line from the New York State Conservative Party.

• 47 signatures on the Independence petition were invalid — 46 due to invalid notary acknowledgement, and one signature was not made by a registered voter.

• All six signatures on the Reform Party petition are invalid because of the invalid notary acknowledgement.

The commissioners did not rule on the objections related to Casella’s place of residence on the Conservative, Independence and Reform petitions. The official objections that will be considered in court Aug. 7 point to a difference of addresses used by Casella on various documents.

In campaign finance forms filed with the Yates County Board of Elections May 23, Casella reported his address as 87 Shethar St., Hammondsport. Campaign finance documents filed on May 30, and June 22, 2017 list his address as 83 Shethar St., Hammondsport. But on designating petitions that Casella and supporters began circulating June 6, his residence was listed as 115 Pulteney St., the same address that was listed as his residence on voter registration documents dated 2013.

The objections to the address differences applied to all 664 signatures on the Republican Party petitions, the 53 signatures on the Independence Party petitions, all 21 petitions on the Conservative Party petitions and all six signatures on the Reform Party petitions.

In a letter to Marchionda outlining their decision, Daines (R) and Brechko explain that they may not rule on the issue — that it must be decided in the court. They explained that they are charged with determining the sufficiency of petitions if the document appears to bear the requisite number of signatures, authenticated according to state election law.

In a statement released by Gardner’s campaign, Marchionda explained, “After Yates County Board of Elections informed me on July 26 that they couldn’t determine whether or not Casella had complied with New York Election Law requirement that candidates must place their true address on designating petitions because only a court could make that determination of fact, I filed with the court to make that determination.” As a registered Yates County voter, Marchionda is eligible to file objections to petitions. She is also an officer of the Yates County Republican Committee.

Gardner says she filed her designating petitions for re-election containing over 900 valid signatures from registered Yates County voters. “I am honored that the good people of Yates County value my years of service and am proud to represent them as the only Yates County resident seeking the office,” she commented.

In a July 28 facebook post, Casella wrote, “I am committed to providing the good people of Yates County with the opportunity to have their voices heard on election day. You have to wonder why she’s (Gardner) so afraid of the voters having a choice on election day.”