By Joe Anuta
John Messer announced Tuesday that he was dropping a Queens Supreme Court case that alleged his Democratic primary opponent, state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), got on the ballot through fraudulent means.
The suit sought to invalidate Stavisky’s nomination to the ballot for a variety of reasons outlined in a lengthy legal brief. In particular, the forged signature of a dead woman was found among the 7,000 collected on behalf of the Queens Democratic Party, which is backing Stavisky.
Messer’s lawyers argued that the petition was so rife with fraud and forged signatures that the entire thing should have been thrown out and the city Board of Elections should have prohibited Stavisky’s name from appearing on the ballot.
That would have let Messer run unopposed in the race for the seat, which is based in Flushing, but extends east through Fresh Meadows and Bayside and west through Forest Hills and Elmhurst.
“Though Sen. Stavisky is a named party to the lawsuit, and under subpoena required to appear and testify, her appearance was not mandated or directed by the court,” Messer’s team said in a statement. “Given this material legal development, Mr. Messer voluntarily withdrew the case.”
But Stavisky’s camp contended that the Oakland Gardens businessman and lawyer never had a case to begin with.
“This whole exercise was a waste of the court’s time and taxpayer money. Queens’ voters will not forget Messer’s shameful attempt at disenfranchising voters and intimidating opponents,” said Pat McKenna, Stavisky’s campaign manager, “Queens Democrats are quickly learning that former Republican Messer can’t be trusted.”
Stavisky’s campaign had previously said that more than 130 people gathered signatures to get a whole host of candidates backed by the Queens Democratic Party onto the ballot, not just Stavisky, and that they could not realistically check up on every person collecting signatures.
They also contended that even if every signature identified by Messer in his legal brief were invalidated, Stavisky would still have many times the number needed to get onto the ballot.
Messer’s camp had collected more than 50 affidavits signed by people who claimed never to have given their John Hancock in support of the longtime lawmaker. But according to Democratic sources, those affidavits were not admissible in court. Instead, the actual people would have had to testify in court, a point not lost on Messer.
“It became clear that to subpoena all 1,000 innocent community residents to prove this case would cause great hardship to many innocent citizens, which is why we decided to let the voters decide the fate of Sen. Stavisky,” Messer’s campaign said in a statement.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.