GOP Freeholder Battle Heads to Court Aug. 18
Judge to rule on alleged illegal campaign contribution before possible trial starts.
A judge will decide Aug. 18 whether a charge of an alleged illegal campaign contribution by father of William “Hank” Lyon—the upstart Republican Morris County freeholder candidate who ousted incumbent Margaret Nordstrom in primary race tallies so far—will be heard in his court, or by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Superior Court Judge Thomas L. Weisenbeck said Wednesday he wants all the attorneys in the case to file opinions by Friday on the jurisdictional issue.
Once that decision is made, testimony from up to 24 Parsippanny voters could be heard beginning Aug. 18 as a trial begins to determine the winner of the June 7 Republican freeholder primary.
Incumbent Nordstrom is trailing Lyon, a first-time candidate from Montville, by six votes in current tallies. The Republican nominee will face Democrat Truscha Quatrone of Montville in the November general election.
After a recount of absentee and provisional ballots failed to alter Lyon’s small lead, Nordstrom filed a contest of the results.
Her petition alleges Parsippany voters cast illegal ballots. It alleges instances of voters filing multiple ballots, of illegal signatures appearing on one or more voting forms, of signatures in the same handwriting appearing on multiple forms, and of ballots that include votes for both Lyon and Nordstrom. It cites one alleged instance of an unregistered voter casting a ballot.
Two voters also claimed they were denied the right to vote because of circumstances beyond their control. In one case a voting machine did not record two votes, and in the other, the location of the polling place given to voters was incorrect.
All the voter irregularities, except two claims of voters being denied their rights, occurred in Parsippany, the petition said.
Wednesday’s conference was called by the judge to get some of the details of the trial cleared up. One concern was having sufficient translators fluent in languages native to India and Pakistan.
The trial comes up against election-related dates that can not be altered.
A drawing for ballot positions for the November election takes place Monday in the office of Morris County Clerk Joan Bramhall, and ballots must be mailed by Sept. 15.
Nordstrom’s petition also claims that Robert Lyon, the father the candidate and treasurer of the “Lyon for Conservative Freeholder” campaign, made an illegal campaign loan of $16,000, well in excess of the $2,600 limit for individuals.
New Jersey election law counts individual loans as individual contributions, the petition says. The remedy under state law for such a contribution, is that the nomination of that candidate be voided, it says.
The petition says that Lyon’s final 11-day pre-election report to the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission showed a balance of $636.88, from a total raised of $3,800. Lyon’s 20-day post-election ELEC report indicated that Robert Lyon provided a $16,000 loan on May 31, for a total of $20,250 raised, the petition says. This loan put Robert Lyon’s contribution at a total of $15,400 more than the per-person donation limit of $2,600.
The petition says that the $15,400 must be immediately refunded by the Lyon campaign. It cites state elections law saying the term "contributions" includes "all loans and transfers of money or other thing of value to or by any candidate."
Lyon has cited state election law in defense of his father’s contribution.
He cited the candidate’s guide issued by ELEC: “There is no limit to the amount of personal funds a candidate may contribute or lend to his or her own campaign (except for publicly funded gubernatorial candidates). Also, a corporation one hundred percent of the stock of which is owned by the candidate, or by the candidate’s spouse, child, parent, or sibling residing in the candidate’s household, may make contributions without limit to a candidate committee established by that candidate, or to a joint candidates committee established by that candidate.”
The petition also says Lyon failed to file any “48-hour” reports, which are required for any donations received in the last 13 days of the election from one source of $1,200 or more. Lyon also made an expenditure of $14,225 for mailing of campaign literature on May 31.
The petition claims that because of Robert Lyon’s contribution, his son’s campaign was able to place signs and conduct a last-minute mailing.
The petition further claims the failure to file the required 48-hour forms was a deliberate attempt to conceal the funding of the Lyon’s campaign in a way that placed Nordstrom at a disadvantage.
As proof the petition points to a last-minute mailing by the Lyon campaign that attacked Nordstrom’s record.
The petition said, “Nordstrom reasonably believed that Mr. Lyon would not have the funds available for such a substantial mailing,” the petition states.
Without the failure to disclose the donation, “Nordstrom would have been able to alter her campaign strategy to prepare for a last minute mailing by Mr. Lyon distorting her record that arrived one day prior to Election Day,” the petition states.