Sunday, May 17, 2020

Syracuse lawyer back in judicial primary after appeals court tosses ‘self-contradictory’ fraud claim

Jason Zeigler
By Douglass Dowty

Syracuse, N.Y. — A Syracuse lawyer was returned to the Democratic primary ballot for City Court Judge by an appellate court on Wednesday, after initially being removed over allegations of fraud.

Jason Zeigler, of Eastwood, has run twice for City Court Judge as the GOP candidate. This year, he decided to launch a primary challenge as a Democrat.

But local state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lamendola ruled that Zeigler had committed fraud by notarizing a petition signature that the citizen claimed was collected by a different man.

A four-judge appellate court in Rochester unanimously reversed that decision Wednesday, ruling that there wasn’t clear proof that the fraud had been committed. Instead, the higher court ruled, the citizen in question had provided contradictory testimony during a court hearing that cast doubt on her allegation.

The ruling will require the re-mailing of Democratic primary ballots to 1,400 residents, according to Onondaga County Election Commission Dustin Czarny. Those new ballots will go into the mail Monday.

There are two open seats on the City Court bench. Judge Ted Limpert is running for reelection and there’s another seat open due to the retirement of Judge Kate Rosenthal. The 10-year terms pay roughly $190,000 a year.

The candidates are: Limpert (incumbent), Jeff Leibo (party designee), Felicia Pitts-Davis, Shadia Tadros and Jason Zeigler.

Zeiger’s journey on, then off, and now back on the ballot was initially fought over whether he’d collected enough valid signatures to run as a Democrat. (He did.)

The citizen at the center of the fraud claim was initially called upon to testify about something else.

But during her testimony, she mentioned that a black man had collected her signature. Zeigler, who is white, notarized it. That was enough to convince Judge Lamendola that Zeigler had committed fraud. And fraud on any signature is enough to throw out the entire primary petition.

The appellate court said the citizen’s testimony wasn’t so clear. On cross-examination, she’d acknowledged signing petitions for four different City Court candidates. And one of those people collecting petitions did, in fact, resemble Zeigler, the court ruled.

Zeigler, who did not mount a defense at the initial hearing, defended himself in his appeal to the Rochester appellate court. He said he was “gratified” by the appellate court’s decision in a statement released by his lawyer, Aaron Zimmerman.

“Mr. Zeigler knew the decision from the local judge kicking him off the ballot was misguided and in error,” Zimmerman added.

The appellate court clearly questioned whether the fraud had occurred at all.

“...cross-examination of the signatory — during which she acknowledged signing four City Court petitions, including one for an individual whose description was similar to that of respondent — called her testimony on direct examination into question,” the appellate court ruled. “Even granting due deference to the (local) court’s assessment of witness credibility, we cannot conclude that the signatory’s equivocal and self-contradictory testimony constituted clear and convincing evidence that respondent engaged in fraud.”

Full Article & Source:
Syracuse lawyer back in judicial primary after appeals court tosses ‘self-contradictory’ fraud claim

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