Activists demand an FBI probe after a ‘crooked judge’ removes a progressive challenger from the primary ballot

Candidate Eddie Egriu confronts former Erie County Election Commissioner Dennis Ward before he was removed from the ballot by the Board of Elections on highly suspect grounds in 2014.

In a decision last Tuesday, the less-than-honorable State Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward, ruled that the Democratic Designating Petitions of Emin Eddie Egriu filed by this campaign were invalid due to a technical error on the cover sheet of the petitions.  That ruling is widely acknowledged as legally incorrect. Egriu’s campaign, after being notified timely by the NYS Board of Elections of an issue with the cover sheet, promptly filed an amended cover sheet correcting the errors, as the campaign was entitled to do under Section 6215.7(d) of NYS Election Law.

Ward refused to recuse himself from the case, despite working to remove Egriu from the ballot in 2014, when the Board of Elections removed him from the ballot on even more legally suspect grounds. At that time, Ward was serving in his former role as the $135,000-per year Commissioner of the Board of Election — which is seen locally by political observers as the most corrupt of Western New York’s governing institutions.

The campaign was taken to court by Brian Higgins’ campaign and the Erie County Democratic Committee, under the proceedings Lisa Saunders v. Emin Eddie Egriu et al. The Egriu campaign submitted the relevant paperwork to the court and made an unflappable argument before the judge brazenly bucked the law in his ruling against Egriu.

Ward’s shamelessness has shocked many in the local political community.

Ward even served as Higgins’ personal attorney in election law matters — including during his first election to the Congress, in the ballot recount against then-Comptroller Nancy Napels).  Ward also has a long history of making $1,000-political contributions directly to Higgins’ campaign.

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In 2014, while Brian Higgins was serving as the Ranking Member on the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on terrorism and counter-intelligence, he sent political staffer Bonnie Kane-Lockwood door-to-door in Lackawanna’s Yemeni community to intimidate individuals who signed Egriu’s nominating petitions.

“It is impossible that the honorable judge could have ruled impartially on this case and should have recused himself rather than taking the case, but did not,” the Egriu campaign wrote in a circulated statement.  “Due to the conflict of interest that Mr. Egriu had with Dennis Ward, as well as due to the relationship Mr. Ward is documented to have between himself, the ECDC’s staff counsel Jerome Schad, and Congressman Brian Higgins.”

The Egriu campaign will be appealing this ruling — but that hasn’t satisfied activists who have been calling on J.P. Kennedy, the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, to investigate the disreputable judge.

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The attorney who sought Egriu’s removal from the ballot in both 2014 and last week was attorney Jerome Schad. Schad is the Chairman of the Amherst Democratic Party Committee and is the Chairman of the Erie County Water Authority. The state agency that oversees public authorities censured the Erie County Water Authority and asked the county Legislature to remove from office all commissioners associated with repeatedly breaking laws and best practices regarding openness, transparency, and independent oversight and governance of the agency during a two-year period.

The campaign will be filing a complaint with State Attorney General Letitia James‘ office to review for professional misconduct on behalf of Ward.

“Our campaign is calling on Mr. Ward to explain his relationship to the adverse party and explain the reasoning behind not recusing himself from the case and is also making a prayer for relief that the appellate court case is taken by impartial parties who have no relation to the ECDC, Congressman Higgins, or Jerome Schad,” the campaign explains.

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Erie County Democrat Chairman Jeremy Zellner has been roundly criticized for serving as both Party Chairman and as the Democrat Commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections.  Critics say that the dual roles create an inevitable conflict of interest that allows the Party chairman to arbitrarily and capriciously remove primary challengers and other candidates who are not affiliated with Party Headquarters from the ballot.

Activists and civic leaders on both ends of the political spectrum have been condemning Higgins and the ECDC, under the direction of Chairman Jeremy Zellner, for initiating such frivolous proceedings during a time of national crisis.

Had an impartial judge been reviewing the case, Egriu would have obtained ballot access for the June primary against Higgins.

 

In 2014, when Egriu had been running against Higgins in the Democratic Primary, the Board of Elections refused to fully canvass his petitions when it was clear that he had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.  Egriu was forced to go to State Supreme Court, where Judge Joseph Glownia — a close associate of G. Steven Pigeon (who was at the time under indictment for bribing another State Supreme Court Judge) and Higgins himself.

It took Glownia five full days in State Supreme Court to concoct a rationale to remove Egriu from that primary ballot.  Higgins had three of his congressional staffers in the courtroom for five days.  It’s unclear whether or not they were being paid with federal funds at the time. The African American community, which supported Egriu aggressively, was aghast that he was removed from the ballot.

 

 

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