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Independent Party of CT v. Merrill

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 19, 2019

INDEPENDENT PARTY OF CT-STATE CENTRAL ET AL.
v.
DENISE W. MERRILL, SECRETARY OF THE STATE, ET AL.

          Argued October 19, 2018

         Procedural History

         Writ of error from the decision of the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, Hon. A. Susan Peck, judge trial referee, who, exercising the powers of the Superior Court, ordered the Secretary of the State to accept only certain nominations and endorsements of the state's Independent Party. Writ of error dismissed.

          Proloy K. Das, with whom was Sarah Gruber, for the plaintiffs in error (Timothy D. Walczak et al.).

          Maura Murphy Osborne, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, former attorney general, for the defendant in error (Denise W. Merrill).

          William M. Bloss, with whom were Alinor C. Sterling and Emily B. Rock, for the defendants in error (Michael Telesca et al.).

          Prerna Rao, with whom was Daniel S. Jo, for the defendant in error (Rebekah Harriman-Stites).

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, C. J.

         This writ of error is the companion case to Independent Party of CT-State Central v. Merrill, 330 Conn. 681, A.3d (2019), in which this court affirmed the judgment of the trial court resolving a long running dispute between the Danbury and Water-bury factions of the state's Independent Party by, inter alia, granting declaratory and injunctive relief directing the named defendant in the underlying action, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill (Secretary), to accept only those endorsements made pursuant to the party's 2010 bylaws. The plaintiffs in error, thirteen candidates for the state House of Representatives endorsed by the Danbury faction[1] prior to the issuance of the trial court's decision in the underlying action, brought this writ of error[2] to protect their rights with respect to the judgment of the trial court. The endorsed candidates now argue that their writ of error is moot given the unchallenged decision of the Secretary to accept the Danbury faction's endorsements with respect to twelve of them, thus allowing them to be on the Independent Party's ballot line for the 2018 election. Rebekah Harriman-Stites, a candidate endorsed by the Waterbury faction for the 106th assembly district, however, has appeared in the present proceeding as a defendant in error[3] and contends that the writ of error is not moot in light of her request that we order the Secretary to print her name on the ballot in accordance with the trial court's decision. Because the writ of error is moot, and Harri-man-Stites' separate request for relief is not properly before us, we dismiss this writ of error.

         The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history.[4] In the underlying action, the plaintiffs, the Independent Party of CT-State Central and its officers, Michael Duff, Donna L. LaFrance, and Roger Palanzo, who lead the Danbury faction of the Independent Party, brought an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against two defendants, Michael Telesca and Rocco Frank, Jr., who lead its Waterbury faction.[5] The central dispute in the underlying case concerned which of two sets of bylaws govern the Independent Party under General Statutes §§ 9-372 (6) and 9-374-namely, a set of bylaws that the Danbury faction filed with the Secretary in 2006 (2006 bylaws), or a set filed in 2010 (2010 bylaws), which was drafted after Ralph Nader had received a sufficient number of votes in the 2008 presidential election to afford the Independent Party with statewide minor party status for the first time.

         After a three day trial to the court, on August 21, 2018, the trial court, Hon. A. Susan Peck, judge trial referee, [6] issued a lengthy memorandum of decision. With respect to its specific findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court first concluded that the 2010 bylaws were controlling under the statutory scheme governing minor parties, in particular §§ 9-372 (6) and 9-374, the ‘‘plain language of [which indicates] that a minor party does not exist in Connecticut until it designates a candidate for office who achieves 1 percent of the vote.'' The trial court further observed that, in contrast to the 2010 bylaws, which were created in a statewide process after Nader's nomination in 2008, the 2006 bylaws were filed with the Secretary at a time when the ‘‘party so-named had not achieved minor party status for any statewide office.'' Thus, the trial court determined that the ‘‘2006 bylaws are valid only to the extent they are recognized as such within the local committee. Although the plaintiffs filed the 2006 bylaws with the [Secretary], the filing of these rules merely allowed the [Danbury faction] to nominate local candidates and get them on an official ballot once they had attained 1 percent of the vote for a particular office. The 2006 bylaws did not automatically allow the [Danbury faction] to gain control of the statewide Independent Party after the 2008 presidential election.'' (Footnote omitted.) Accordingly, the trial court concluded that ‘‘the only statewide Independent Party was created post-2008, and the 2010 bylaws are the only valid governing rules of that party.''[7]

         The trial court further concluded that the plaintiffs had ‘‘failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that they are entitled to the declaratory and injunctive relief requested in their second amended complaint.'' Instead, the trial court turned to the defendants' counterclaim and special defenses, and concluded that they had ‘‘established by a preponderance of the evidence that the 2010 bylaws are the validly adopted and operative bylaws of the Independent Party/ Independent Party of Connecticut, filed pursuant to the requirements of § 9-374, and that [Telesca and Frank] are the duly elected officers of the Independent Party/ Independent Party of Connecticut, and the individual plaintiffs are not. In addition, the court hereby declares that the 2006 bylaws apply only to the Danbury faction's local committee of the Independent Party. Finally, the court hereby declares and orders that the [Secretary] must accept only the nominations and endorsements of the Independent Party/Independent Party of Connecticut, made pursuant to the 2010 bylaws filed with the [Secretary] on March 22, [2010], or as may be amended, pursuant to . . . § 9-374.'' According to the plaintiffs, this order effectively ‘‘gives the Waterbury faction under the leadership of Telesca and Frank control of the statewide ballot line.''

         Prior to the issuance of the trial court's underlying decision, the Danbury faction published, in the August 15, 2018 edition of the Hartford Courant, notice of the ‘‘Independent Party Endorsement Meeting, '' scheduled for August 20, 2018. On August 20, 2018, the Danbury faction held that endorsement meeting and endorsed certain candidates for the 2018 general election, includ- ing each of the endorsed candidates in the present proceeding. On the morning of August 21, 2018, the ...


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