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Home > Columnists > Alice Park
January 09, 2012

District 4 election winner fights for assembly seat--again


Former GOP District 4 assembly candidate challenged Gabriella Mosquera's election eligibility. ()

By ALICE PARK
     News Editor

After winning the November election, Gabriella Mosquera lost her New Jersey Fourth District Assembly seat on Thursday, when State Superior Court Judge George Leone invalidated more than 19,000 votes on the grounds Mosquera was short some 50 days of a full-year residency in the district before election day. Mosquera, who was scheduled to be sworn in tomorrow, and her attorney, William Tambussi, filed an emergent appeal in an attempt to take back her position before Tuesday.

In early December, Republican assembly candidate Shelley Lovett, who fought against and lost to Mosquera in a battle for District 4, challenged Mosquera’s eligibility and residency status. Mosquera had moved to Gloucester Township on December 29, 2010.

New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Wisniewki issued a statement, “I wholeheartedly disagree with the unprecedented decision to invalidate the election of Fourth District Assemblywoman-elect Gabriella Mosquera due to a challenge to her residency. This decision has disenfranchised over 19,000 voters in the Fourth District. It is a setback to the diversity of the New Jersey Legislature and a blow to our efforts to elect more women to serve. She followed all the rules of the state, but when Republicans couldn’t defeat her at the ballot box, they went to court to have the rules changed after the game had already ended.”

Despite the ten-year injunction instituted by the federal court, which prohibits states from enforcing the residency rule due to its violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, Leone pronounced Mosquera constitutionally ineligible to take office. The decision to bar the establishment of residency rules was made by Judge Dickinson Debevoise in Robertson V. Bartels. “By ignoring legal precedent, the opinion of the state’s chief election officer, and the overwhelming will of voters, one judge is denying nearly a quarter of a million New Jersey residents the right to full representation in the legislature,” said Assemblywoman and Senator-elect Nellie Pou (D-Paterson), Chair of the NJ Legislative Latino Caucus. “It is unfortunate that this one judge has decided that the opinion of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, which has been used as legal guidance for the last ten years, is inferior to his own.”

Tambussi wrote in his appeal, “The Attorney General and Secretary of state have not enforced the requirement since issuance of the Robertson order, nor do they seek to enforce the requirement here in this matter. Despite the settled case law, the injunction in Robertson and the long-standing position of the Attorney General, the law division issued a ruling on January 5 voiding the results of the November 8, 2011 as to Mosquera.”

In response to Tambussi’s appeal, Lovett’s attorney Matthew Wolfe indicated the Robertson case was reviewed under different circumstances. He wrote in a letter to the appellate court, “This court concerns a candidate who admits that she is not constitutionally qualified to hold the office of the Fourth District General Assembly based on residency and she failed in her attempt to prove that this Constitutional provision, as applied to her, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.”

Though Leone’s decision prevents Mosquera from being sworn into office, he directs the Gloucester and Camden County Democrat committees to choose an interim assembly member to fill the currently empty seat until the next general election in 2012. Wolfe said he and Lovett were satisfied with the judge’s orders and had no intentions to appeal; however, since Mosquera’s attorneys are appealing, Wolfe plans to file a cross appeal, which will request the appellate division judge to allow county GOP committees to choose Mosquera’s replacement. The Fourth District incumbent was Republican Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco of Franklin Township, which moved from District 4 to District 3 during this year’s redistricting.  

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