Liu lawsuit for city fines languishes in state court

By Alex Robinson

Former city Comptroller John Liu said along the recent campaign trail that he is fighting $525,000 in city fines for illegal campaign posters in his 2009 comptroller run.

But his lawsuit challenging the fines has sat idle in state Supreme Court in Manhattan since February 2013 with no clear sign of when it will be initiated, court officials said.

Liu’s 2009 campaign committee, People for John Liu, originally filed the lawsuit against the city in Brooklyn in 2012 and later transferred it to the Manhattan court in February 2013.

After the transfer, the lawsuit has remained in legal limbo as Liu conducted two campaigns: an unsuccessful bid for mayor and his current primary bid against state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

Once the lawsuit reached Manhattan, People for John Liu never filed a request for judicial intervention, which is necessary for the case to be assigned to a judge, according to court officials.

When asked at his Primary Night party why he had not filed a request for judicial intervention yet, Liu referred TimesLedger Newspapers to the attorney representing People for John Liu in the case, Martin Connor.

Connor said the lawsuit was originally filed in Brooklyn because Manhattan’s courthouse was still closed after Superstorm Sandy hit the city. He also said a request for judicial intervention had been filed in the original case before it was transferred to Manhattan, but refused to discuss the case further.

“We’re going to be reaching a settlement later this month,” he said.

Liu’s campaign was first given the fines in 2009 by the city Department of Sanitation for placing posters on city property.

The fines were originally overturned by a judge for the Environmental Control Board, which rules on city fines, because they were determined to have been improperly served.

They were then served again in 2012, which Liu has claimed was the result of meddling by the Bloomberg administration. His campaign committee was then found in violation by ECB at a second hearing and ordered to pay $527,400.

Liu has said he appealed the penalty, but in order to do so, it would have been necessary to either pay the fines, post a bond or prove his campaign was under economic hardship, according to ECB rules. People for John Liu took the third option and was granted a waiver on the fines, an ECB spokeswoman said. In July 2012, People for John Liu was more than $9,500 in debt, according to campaign finance filings.

Questions about the unpaid fines followed Liu over the last few weeks of his campaign to unseat Avella.

“At this point, I am appealing those summonses because they were unfair summonses to begin with,” Liu said at a recent candidates’ forum in Bay Terrace in response to a question about the fines. “At the end of the day, if my campaign is found liable for that money, I will certainly pay it. To me, the money is not the issue. It’s the principle here. So I’m not going to pay unfair fines until I get my due justice in the courts, which is outside the control of the Bloomberg administration.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobi‌nson@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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