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Judge Rejects Special Vote for N.J.

September 16, 2004|From Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — A federal judge Wednesday refused to order a special election to replace Gov. James E. McGreevey, who announced last month that he had a gay extramarital affair and would step down Nov. 15. A state judge later said she would consider the case.

U.S. District Judge Garrett E. Brown Jr. dismissed a lawsuit that claimed McGreevey had in effect created a vacancy by announcing his resignation. Brown said there was no vacancy to fill because McGreevey had not left office.

"He clearly intends to hold office until Nov. 15, 2004. The requirement of holding a special election does not arise. The rights of registered voters are not being violated," Brown said.

The suit, filed by two Princeton lawyers, argued that McGreevey was depriving voters of their rights by staying in office until there was too little time to schedule a special election.

Shortly after Brown made his ruling, one of the attorneys, Bruce Afran, filed the same lawsuit in state Superior Court in Mercer County. Afran said he believed a state judge might reach a different ruling.

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg said she would hear arguments Oct. 4 from the lawyers and the state attorney general's office, which is fighting the suit.

McGreevey called a news conference last month to say he had had an extramarital affair with a man and would resign Nov. 15.

Under state law, if McGreevey had left office before Sept. 3, a special election would have been called for Nov. 2. But now, Senate President Richard J. Codey, a fellow Democrat, will serve as acting governor until the term expires in January 2006.

In his ruling, Brown detailed definitions of the word "vacancy," using several types of dictionaries. Under every definition he could find, the state has no vacancy because McGreevey has not left office, Brown said.

"I am quite shocked that a U.S. District Court judge decides a dictionary is more important than the United States Constitution," Afran said afterward.

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