NY's highest court rejects term limit for district attorney - New York News

NY's highest court rejects term limit for district attorney

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MICHAEL VIRTANEN | AP

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York's highest court ruled Thursday that a longtime Long Island prosecutor can continue his re-election bid, because the county where he was elected lacks the authority to set his term limit.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota is not bound by the 12-year limit approved by local voters in 1993, the Court of Appeals said in a 6-1 ruling. The 62 counties lack the power to regulate the number of terms for their district attorneys, who are officers established by the state constitution to enforce New York's penal law and should be subject to uniform qualifications, the majority said.

Spota faces attorney Raymond Perini in a Sept. 10 Republican primary. He also has Democratic, independent and conservative cross-endorsements.

"Permitting county legislators to impose term limits on the office of district attorney would have the potential to impair the independence of that office, because it would empower a local legislative body to effectively end the tenure of an incumbent district attorney whose investigatory or prosecutorial actions were unpopular or contrary to the interests of county legislators," the majority wrote. "The state has a fundamental and overriding interest in ensuring the integrity and independence of the office of district attorney."

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman was joined by Judges Eugene Pigott Jr., Susan Read, Victoria Graffeo, Jenny Rivera and Sheila Abdus-Salaam in the ruling.

In his dissent, Judge Robert Smith wrote that he sees nothing in the constitution or state law preventing Suffolk County from limiting the number of consecutive years a district attorney may serve. "It is irrelevant that, as the majority notes, a district attorney is `a constitutional officer' as well as a county officer and that the office of district attorney is a subject of statewide concern," he wrote.

Perini said after the court arguments Wednesday that thinks he'll win the Republican primary and got 4,725 petition signatures without party backing. "People want a choice," he said.

Attorney Kevin Snover, who challenged Suffolk County's 12-year limits for district attorney, sheriff and county clerk and won in trial court, said he was gratified the top court agreed that district attorney is a sufficiently important office from a statewide level that it would be inappropriate to have counties limit its term and so set qualifications for office.

"Those three offices are mandated in the same section of the constitution," Snover said.

When Suffolk County imposed the limits, it was done for other county offices as well. Snover doubted there would be a credible legal challenge for limiting any of the others.

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