Legal Analysis of Federal Court Ruling in Buffalo Mayoral Election Ballot Case

A federal court judge recently ruled that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown will appear on the ballot for the upcoming mayoral election on the Buffalo Party Line. Attorney Barry N. Covert visited WIVB News 4’s studio for an interview with anchor Melanie Orlins. In the interview, Mr. Covert to provided legal analysis on the latest development in the Buffalo mayoral race.

Continuing reading for portions of Barry Covert’s comments and click the video below to watch the full interview with WIVB’s Melanie Orlins.

What was your first reaction to Judge Sinatra’s decision and do you think that there was a conflict of interest with his brother, of course, being a Buffalo developer and a longtime supporter of Mayor Brown?

BNC: I’m taking that question first. The judges, especially federal court judges, take the ethical issues very seriously when it comes to whether they have a conflict and can stay on the case and can’t. And apparently the judge said he reviewed all the standards, discussed the issue with other sources, including other judges. I would have no concerns here at all that there’s a conflict of interest. He is a very intelligent judge. He knows what he’s doing so, I would not be concerned with it. My first reaction was, this was a huge break for the mayor. And so he is now on a ballot line. There’s no reason that anyone that wants to vote for him won’t be able to find him. You won’t have to worry about write-in candidates or write-in ballots. So, I think it’s a huge break for him. But it’s also, regardless of what party you’re in, it’s also a good ruling when it comes to giving voters a choice among many candidates, more than one certainly.  And while certainly if you’re a supporter of India Walton, then you’re probably disheartened. If you’re a supporter of Mayor Brown, then you are supportive of this. But it really doesn’t matter. One of the things that the courts look at is ‘how do we make sure that voters are not disenfranchised by having a limited number of candidates to choose from.’ In this case the judge overcame that.

Does the federal decision overarch the state decision? Does the state decision still matter?

BNC: In most instances a federal court decision will overrule any state decisions. There is a doctrine of abstention in cases where federal courts want states to look at state statutes when they’re being challenged under a state constitution. So if it’s purely a state issue, then traditionally the federal courts will step back if there’s a request made and allow for the state courts to rule on their own statutes. In this case, the state statute is being reviewed under the U.S. Constitution. So, I don’t expect that’s going to happen. So, I think that the federal court will be followed.

Can Walton win an appeal before the 9/9 deadline of having the ballots certified?

BNC: You can expect that the second circuit, if they want to review this, will have the time to do so. All courts are able to make quick decisions. They’re use to, especially around election time, having to review matters very quickly. They usually have a committee that’s ready to review it. The law clerks to the judges will review very quickly and summarize the cases to the judges, in this case the second circuit. And then the second circuit judges that are assigned to this will then decide whether they want to listen to it, how they want to listen to it. So the timing of it really isn’t going to undermine her case. But the question is does the second circuit even want to review this. Do they agree with the ruling? Do they want to intervene?

If it were to be overturned, what would Mayor Brown’s case be moving forward?

BNC: If it were to be overturned, then he probably is off the ballot. At least in relation to whether the federal court is going to put him on the ballot. But he still has another lawsuit available to him that I believe is pending in state court.

Is there anything really important that the people of Buffalo should know about these cases and these rulings today?

BNC: These rulings are consistent with prior rulings, where in order to allow voters to have multiple choices, the courts really want to make certain that all the candidate that want to be on the ballot have the ability to do so. The state statute that was changed by the governor under his emergency orders now limited the time in which candidates could submit their petitions to be on the ballot. It went from being August 17th to I believe May 13th or something along those lines. So this really is consistent with the desire of the courts to allow voters to have as many choices as possible.