Judge rules convicted former Newark mayor can’t run for city council

Published: Mar. 15, 2022

Former Mayor Sharpe James cannot run for city council in Newark’s May 10 election, a judge ruled Tuesday, citing James’ 2008 fraud conviction that bars him from holding office and rejecting an argument by James’ lawyer that merely running is not the same thing.

Afterward, James’ lawyer, Thomas Ashley, said James would not appeal and will not run in the Spring non-partisan race.

James, 86, who served as mayor from 1986-2006, dropped off nominating petitions last month to be placed on the ballot for one of four at-large council seats in the upcoming municipal election.

But on March 3, City Clerk Kenneth Louis informed James that his candidacy would not be certified because a state judge had barred him from holding public office in New Jersey following his conviction on federal mail fraud and conspiracy charges.

James then filed a lawsuit Friday in state Superior Court in Newark, challenging the city clerk’s decision. On Monday, Ashley followed up with a motion to block the clerk from holding a drawing for ballot positions pending a final decision on whether James could run.

The ballot drawing will proceed as scheduled on Wednesday. If the city had delayed the drawing, Louis said it would have thrown the process “into chaos,” forcing officials to reschedule the election.

However, the issue became moot Tuesday morning when Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena denied the motion and dismissed the suit, and Ashley said he would not appeal.

“The motion is denied in its entirety,” Vena said at the hearing, which James did not attend. “The complaint in this case is dismissed.”

In the suit, Ashley had tried to distinguish between “holding office,” the language used in the July 11, 2008 order by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg, and running for office.

Feinberg issued the order based on state election law three months after James’ conviction in U.S. District Court on federal charges that, while serving as mayor, he steered the sale of city properties to his mistress, who resold them at a profit. James denies the woman was his mistress.

Running for office was not explicitly barred in the 2008 order, and Ashley argued that doing so was essentially a form of self expression protected by the First Amendment.

The city lawyer representing the clerk’s office, Kirstin Bohn, said Ashley’s semantic distinction between running and holding office “makes a mockery” of the electoral process. Letting James run, Bohn added, “tricks the voters into thinking that their vote is going to count, and it’s not.”

Capping Tuesday’s hearing inside the Historic Essex County Courthouse, the judge said the city clerk had acted properly in refusing to certify James’ candidacy because eligibility to hold office was a qualification to run for it.

Vena also said that placing James on the ballot without the right to hold office if he won “would certainly confuse and mislead prospective voters” and harm other candidates who could be deprived of votes that people cast for James in confusion.

In a phone interview after the hearing, Ashley said James would not appeal Vena’s decision. However, Ashley added that James, a state senator from 1999-2008, may take separate legal action in the future to fight his lifetime disqualification from holding office.

Ashley said he and James might also try to overturn the four mail fraud and conspiracy convictions that led to the order, based on the successful appeal of a fifth conviction related to the other four.

“We’re not giving up,” he said.

Do you like this post?

Showing 1 reaction


published this page in News and Politics 2022-03-16 02:59:24 -0700