By Stephen Stirling
The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn has reinstated the candidacy of state Senate candidate Peter Koo, less than a week after a judge tossed him off the ballot and questioned his credibility as a witness.
In a 5-0 decision, the Appellate Court ruled that Koo's candidacy was valid and said State Supreme Court Justice James P. Dollard had unjustly removed the Flushing businessman from the ballot Aug. 14 in his bid to unseat incumbent state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone).
“Sadly by trying to take this election away from the voters, [Stavisky] has demonstrated all that is wrong with politics as usual in Albany,” Koo said in his office last Thursday.
Dollard ruled last week that there was not substantial evidence to indicate Koo had lived within the 16th State Senate District since November 2007, which is required for a candidate running for state office in 2008.
Appellate Justices Reinaldo Rivera, William McCarthy, Thomas Dickerson, John Leventhal and Ariel Belen contended that Dollard had improperly ruled, issuing his decision based on the controversial testimony of Koo himself rather than the facts presented in the case.
“The question of residence is a factual one, based on a variety of factors and circumstances. Where there is conflicting testimony, the resolution of the conflict lies, in the first instance, within the province of the hearing court, as the finder of fact,” the judges wrote in their decision Aug. 20.
The judges determined that since Koo paid more than $24,000 in city resident income taxes in 2007, his driver's license has listed his residence as 133-24 41st Ave. since August 2007 and that he has been registered to vote at that residence since at least May 2007, he is qualified to run against Stavisky in November.
Koo's attorney, Mark Fang, said while the Stavisky campaign may appeal the decision to the New York state Court of Appeals, but believe it would be a tough sell.
“It's like a funnel, the options become narrower and narrower as you go on,” he said.
Stavisky campaign spokesman Joe Rubens said the decision was shocking based on Dollard's decision a week ago.
In an eight-page decision, Dollard said Koo repeatedly contradicted himself and the statements of his wife, Bernadette, which he said “casts doubt on the witness' testimony” at a court hearing.
“From his demeanor on the stand, the manner in which he gave his testimony, his evasiveness and the inconsistency in his testimony, the court finds the respondent not to be a credible witness,” Dollard wrote.
“The decision is surprising, since the State Supreme Court clearly found that Peter Koo does not meet the constitutional requirements and cannot be trusted to tell the truth to the people of Queens,” Rubens said.
“We are currently reviewing the latest decision and evaluating the legal options available to hold Peter Koo accountable for this serious election fraud.”
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.