Indep. Party of CT—State Cent. v. Merrill

Decision Date19 February 2019
Docket NumberSC 20165
Citation330 Conn. 681,200 A.3d 1118
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties INDEPENDENT PARTY OF CT—STATE CENTRAL et al. v. Denise W. MERRILL, Secretary of the State, et al.

Eliot B. Gersten, with whom was Johanna S. Katz, Hartford, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Maura Murphy Osborne, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, former attorney general, for the appellee (named defendant).

William M. Bloss, with whom were Alinor C. Sterling, and Emily B. Rock, Bridgeport, for the appellees (defendant Michael Telesca et al.).

Robinson, C.J., and Palmer, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Vertefeuille, Js.


This appeal is the latest battle in the war for control over the state's Independent Party between its Danbury faction, which is led by the plaintiffs, the Independent Party of CT—State Central and its officers, Michael Duff, Donna L. LaFrance, and Roger Palanzo,1 and its Waterbury faction, which is led by two of the defendants, Michael Telesca and Rocco Frank, Jr. The plaintiffs appeal2 from the judgment of the trial court, rendered after a bench trial, for Telesca and Frank on the complaint and the counterclaim in the present action, which both sought declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, the trial court ordered the named defendant, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill,3 to accept candidate endorsements made pursuant to the Independent Party's 2010 bylaws (2010 bylaws), which, in effect, gave the Waterbury faction control over the Independent Party's statewide nominations. There are two principal issues among the plaintiffs' plethora of claims in the present appeal. First, we consider whether the trial court's order of supplemental briefing and oral argument concerning its subject matter jurisdiction, issued just prior to the 120 day decision deadline pursuant to General Statutes § 51-183b,4 and after the plaintiffs' objection to the trial court's request for an extension, preserved its personal jurisdiction over the parties by stopping and later restarting the decision period. The second principal issue is whether the trial court properly determined that General Statutes § 9-374,5 which requires the filing of party rules before the name of a candidate endorsed by a minor political party may be printed on an election ballot, rendered the 2010 bylaws controlling, as opposed to bylaws that the Danbury faction had filed with the Secretary in 2006 (2006 bylaws) prior to the Independent Party's receiving the 1 percent of statewide votes necessary to confer minor party status. Because we conclude that the order of supplemental briefing and argument opened the 120 day decision period and later restarted it, thus rendering the trial court's decision timely under § 51-183b, and also conclude that the trial court properly construed § 9-374, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.6

The record reveals the following relevant facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history. The genesis of the current Independent Party dates to 2003, when Telesca and others formed the Waterbury Independent Party (Waterbury party), "to run candidates for local office as an alternative to the major parties."

The Waterbury party "endorsed a full slate of candidates for municipal elections in Waterbury and [saw] eight people [elected] to office, each of whom received more than 1 percent of the vote in [his or her] individual [race]. Because the candidates received at least 1 percent of the vote in each of those races, the Waterbury [party] was eligible for minor party status for those offices. Thereafter, Waterbury electors could register as Independent Party members for local elections. After the 2003 Waterbury municipal elections, the [Secretary] sent a letter to the Waterbury [party] requesting that it submit party rules. In 2004, the Waterbury [party] drafted bylaws on how to conduct caucuses and created a nominating process for future races. Telesca's goal was to build a new statewide third party to help people get ballot access around the state. The Waterbury [party] bylaws were filed with the [Secretary and the] Waterbury town clerk ...."

"In 2004, the Waterbury [party] decided to run candidates in races for state representative and state [senator] in the Waterbury area.... Around this time, Telesca learned about a separate Independent Party that had been formed in Danbury headed by [Robert] Fand that had reserved the name [‘Independent Party for the 30th Senate District (Danbury party) ]. Because the Danbury [party] had already reserved the party designation of Independent Party for the 30th Senate District, the Waterbury [party] was not allowed to nominate a candidate for that election. In 2004, Telesca and Fand reached an agreement that the Waterbury [party] would not operate in Danbury and the Danbury [party] would not operate in Waterbury....

"In 2006, the Waterbury [party] attempted to reserve the name ‘Independent Party statewide but was not able to do so because there were local parties using the name ‘Independent’ in both Danbury and Waterbury. The [Secretary] would not allow two different parties with any part of the same name on the ballot at the same time. In 2006, Telesca and [his colleague, John] Mertens learned from the [Secretary] that they needed to get the local independent parties to come together in order to ... petition for statewide offices. In 2006, Telesca and Fand joined together and signed and filed a form [ED-6017 with the Secretary] as members of the Independent Party Designation Committee, but they failed to obtain enough signatures to get ballot access for any statewide office. As a result, there was no statewide minor party established in that year....

"In September 2006, Fand, [John L.] Dietter, and LaFrance filed a form ED-48 with the [Secretary] designating themselves as the three members of the party committee for the ‘Independent Party of CT—State Central.’ ... At the same time, these individuals filed the 2006 bylaws, which consisted of one page [entitled] Party Rules Amended.’ ... The introductory paragraph of those rules states that the committee ‘adopts the following rules for the establishment of local committees and nomination of candidates.’ ... The final paragraph of the 2006 bylaws ... indicates that the rules were passed unanimously at the meeting of the State Central Committee of the Independent Party of Connecticut on [September 27, 2006],’ and is signed by ... Dietter [as] Chairman ... LaFrance [as] Treasurer, and ... Fand [as] Deputy Treasurer ...." (Citations omitted; footnote added.)

"In 2008, Fand and Telesca [again] joined together to create a statewide Independent Party. There were other Independent Party chapters in the state at this time, including ones in Winsted and Milford. Telesca assisted those chapters by providing information regarding the election process. The immediate goal in 2008 was to run Ralph Nader as a candidate for president ... and achieve 1 percent of the vote, which would establish the Independent Party as a statewide minor party. See General Statutes § 9-372(6).8 In a joint effort to accomplish this goal, Telesca and Fand both signed and filed [a] form ED-601 ... as the designated agents of the Independent Party. The form designated the name Independent Party not only for president, vice president, and electors, but also for state senate districts 24, 28, and 11, state assembly districts 110 and 96, United States congressmen for the third and fifth districts, and for several registrar of voters and probate judge races." (Footnote added.)

The trial court credited Telesca's testimony that, "because there were different rules for the various local parties in the state who controlled the Independent Party line for their localities, he and Fand agreed that they would need to create a new set of bylaws to accomplish their joint goal of creating a statewide minor party. Without a statewide party, a local Independent Party could oppose a statewide candidate for any office by reserving the same or a similar party designation for [its town]. Running ... Nader for president provided a clear path toward garnering 1 percent of the vote and establishing a statewide minor party. Once Nader achieved over 1 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, the [Secretary] certified the Independent Party as a minor party and notified all town registrars of voters of the Independent Party's new status as a statewide minor party.... Subsequently, anyone in the state could register to vote as a member of the Independent Party.

"Following the 2008 election, Telesca and Mertens drafted bylaws for the new statewide party. Telesca sent out [between] 700 [and] 800 postcards about a meeting to be held on March 20, 2010, concerning proposed bylaws to any registered member of the Independent Party who had voted in the last two elections. Mertens created a website and posted the proposed bylaws on it months in advance of the meeting. Telesca put an advertisement in the Hartford Courant announcing the meeting/caucus and gave advance notice to the [Secretary]. Telesca also sent Fand a postcard and gave him a copy of the proposed bylaws before the meeting, which Fand acknowledged. Telesca and [his colleague Mary] Iorio met with Fand about the bylaws for the new statewide party before the meeting was held.

"On March 20, 2010, the Independent Party held a meeting in Waterbury of registered Independent Party members from around the state to ratify the [2010] bylaws for the new statewide party. At the meeting, Fand did not object either to the meeting, the idea of creating bylaws for the new statewide party, or the bylaws themselves, [and also did not] request any changes to the [2010] bylaws as proposed. There was an agenda for the meeting and a sign-up sheet. Only registered Independent Party members were allowed to vote on the [2010] bylaws. The vote to approve the bylaws was...

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    ...the ... claim is unreviewable—is the same.’’ (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Independent Party of CT—State Central v. Merrill , 330 Conn. 681, 724, 200 A.3d 1118 (2019) ; see also State v. Fay , 326 Conn. 742, 765 n.22, 167 A.3d 897 (2017) (‘‘a finding of induced error is supportable wh......
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1 books & journal articles
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    • United States
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