By Stephen Stirling
The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn reinstated Republican Peter Koo as a state Senate candidate Wednesday, 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 that State Supreme Court Justice James P. Dollard had unjustly removed the Flushing businessman from the ballot Aug. 14 in his bid to unseat incumbent Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone).
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.
The judges determined that since Koo paid more than $24,000 in New York City resident income taxes in 2007, his driver's license has listed his residence as 133-24 41st Ave. in Flushing since August 2007 and he has been registered to vote at that residence since at least May 2007 that he is qualified to run against Stavisky in November.
Koo's campaign manager, Oliver Tan, hailed the decision.
"I think this is clear and convincing proof that the courts agree with us that this was just a political ploy by Stavisky and her campaign machine to try and play a dirty trick on us. That dirty trick failed," Tan said.
Stavisky campaign spokesman Joe Rubens said the appellate court ruling 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.