Tuesday, February 02, 2016
The Sullivan County Board of Elections will be under the watchful eye of the federal government for the next five years and will have to pay more than $500,000 as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by Hasidic voters who accused the county of discrimination.
The settlement will require the county to pay $550,000 in legal fees and give each of the 10 Village of Bloomingburg residents who were part of the federal suit $2,500 each - or $25,000 total, according to the settlement documents filed in federal court in White Plains Monday.
The settlement is meant to stop the rising cost of the lawsuit, according to court documents.
The county's insurance company will reimburse the county for any payments made as part of the settlement, according to a resolution approved by the legislature in a 7-1 vote on Thursday. It has yet to be signed by the court.
Legislator Cathy Owens, the wife of Mamakating Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann, was the only one to vote against the settlement.
The settlement will also require both sides to appoint a person as monitor.
The monitor will be tasked with reviewing the questionnaire given to people who've had their voter registration challenged to make sure it complies with state election law and that it doesn't "impose an unnecessary burden on the constitutional right to vote."
The monitor will also review any information in an investigation of a person's voter registration and make recommendations for what the board should do. If the board disagrees with the monitor, the voter can then take their case immediately to a federal judge instead of having to first file a lawsuit in county court.
The board of elections will be under the watch of the independent monitor for five years, according to the settlement.
NYC attorney Steven Engel, who represented the Bloomingburg voters, said this was the first time he has heard of the federal court monitoring a county board of elections. He said he was pleased with the settlement.
"This is a victory not only for Bloomingburg's Hasidic Jewish community, but citizens of every faith," Engel said.
Legislature Chairman Luis Alvarez said the county could benefit from an independent monitor.
"It's just unbelievable when someone comes from the outside and you see something you didn't see before," Alvarez said.
This settlement brings an end to a federal suit filed by 10 Bloomingburg residents who said Elections Commissioners Ann Prusinski and now-deceased Rodney Gaebel, canceled more than 150 Hasidic voter registrations in early 2015 to prevent Hasidim from voting in the village election. The county has denied taking any discriminatory actions against voters.
The county, who was represented by outgoing county attorney Sam Yasgur, hired Middletown attorneys Bob Isseks and Alex Smith of Isseks and Smith to represent Prusinski in the lawsuit. Smith previously said this was done when a government perceives one of its employees did not act in its best interest.
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