The following is a statement released by Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner in response to this week’s decision by Justice John Ark ruled in favor of Todd Casella being allowed to appear on the primary ballot next month and in November.
“On July 26, 2017, Yates County Board of Elections ruled that Steuben County candidate for Yates County DA, Todd Casella’s petitions for the Independence and Reform Parties were invalid due to Casella’s own improper notary acknowledgments on his Independence and Reform Party designating petitions. The specific objection stated “Invalid Notary Acknowledgment: Failure to enter title as “Notary Public, State of New York” as required by NY Executive and Election Laws is fatal to all signatures on page.” Todd Casella, responded by filing suit against Yates County Board of Elections claiming that the Board was wrong in invalidating his Independence Party and Reform Party designating petitions for the office of Yates County District Attorney. Supreme Court Justice John J. Ark, in his decision rendered on August 14, 2017, after a hearing held on August 7, 2017, said that although the notary acknowledgement was improper, Casella’s “failure constitutes inconsequential error”.
The Yates County Board of Elections also ruled on July 26, 2017, that they were unable to make a determination 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, forcing suit to be filed by the objector to have the question settled. At issues were 8 separate filings by Casella between March 23, 2017 and June 22, 2017 wherein he claimed his residence at two locations on Shethar Street in Hammondsport, one of which was a vacant lot, as opposed to the 115 Pulteney Street address he listed in his petitions, and the Reform Party Authorization filed on July 13, 2017 which identified the 83 Shethar Street residence for Casella.
In his decision relating to the residence question, Justice Ark stated, “His residency is not an immediate issue in that he is running for an office in a county in which he does not currently reside, but to which he must move and reside in should he win the general election”. Ark’s decision also emphasized the out-of-county aspect, saying, “Remarkably, of the total 64 pages of signatures, accounting for 664 signatures, 26 pages of signatures, accounting for approximately 304 signatures, were witnessed by Wayne County Republicans and six pages of signatures, accounting for 79 signatures, were witnessed by a Steuben County Republican.”
John Ciampoli, Esq., the attorney who represented the Petition Objections in this case stated, “The crux of this case was that Casella illegally misrepresented his residence to the people of Yates County on his petition. That’s wrong for anyone but it is really wrong for someone who wants to be District Attorney and to be trusted with the power to administer justice. The Court in Rochester excused Casella for not living where he said he lived. The judge did make a point of noting in his decision that the lion’s share of Casella’s signatures were collected by Wayne and Steuben County witnesses, highlighting Casella’s carpet-bagger status which ultimately protected him, as the Court assumed that Yates County residents wouldn’t know the difference between the three addresses in Steuben County claimed by Casella. Remarkably, Casella testified under oath that his residence where he always intends to return to is in Steuben, not Yates County. That says it all.”
Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner, who is running for re-election in this race, stated in response to the ruling and attacks by opponent Casella in his press release, “While I can understand the court’s desire to be liberal in allowing local candidates who are laypersons access to the ballot despite significant legal deficiencies, it shocks the conscience to think that a licensed attorney is not held to strict compliance with the letter of the law. It is particularly concerning involving the elected position that is charged with strict enforcement of the law. This outsider Steuben County opponent has engaged in dishonest campaigning, including making numerous false claims and allegations. Prosecutors should never demonstrate a willingness to falsely accuse or misrepresent facts. It is up to the voters to protect themselves from sloppy incompetence, dishonesty and disregard of the law. I, however, trust that the good people of Yates County are fully capable of making this distinction. I stand on my proven record and dedicated service to our community.”
Incumbent Yates County District Attorney Valerie Gardner 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.” Gardner is a veteran local attorney of Penn Yan.
Since taking office in 2014, Gardner has instituted many cost saving measures in the DA’s office, reducing the net county cost for tax payers by over one-third, more than $300,000 to date. Those savings equate to more than the cost of one full year to operate the department. “Working with law enforcement, we have achieved a 99% felony conviction rate and 100% felony drug conviction rate, while always keeping focus on ways to enhance the long-term safety of our community.” says Gardner, an experienced trial attorney of 23 years with a felony trial conviction rate of 100% since taking office.”