A Superior Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the Republican State Central Committee (RSCC) that was brought by five town residents who claimed the state committee had no right to invalidate an Easton Republican Town Committee (ERTC) caucus held in January.

The plaintiffs, June Chiaia-Logie, Beverly Dacey, Adele O’Kane, Elizabeth Maiorano and Shari Williams, claimed the RSCC had “no jurisdiction or authority” to invalidate the Jan. 4 caucus after learning that ERTC Chairman Wendy Bowditch changed the caucus venue without proper notification in a published legal notice as required in the party’s bylaws.

The plaintiffs were seeking a preliminary injunction to stop a slate of nine Easton Republican Town Committee members who took office on March 9, and to reinstate 30 people who were nominated at the committee’s Jan. 4 caucus during which Chiaia-Logie put forth her own slate of 12 people to replace many long-time members. Williams and O’Kane, who are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were among the 12 elected at the caucus.

Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens dismissed the lawsuit under Connecticut’s anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) statute, which is intended to protect defendants who are sued for exercising their First Amendment rights in a matter of public concern. The statute gives defendants an expedited process to dismiss meritless or frivolous suits brought against them. In this case, the defendants argued that the Chiaia-Logie et al.’s complaint implicated their First Amendment right of association and that the plaintiffs’ claims also failed as a matter of law.

Judge Stevens’ decision to rule in favor of the defendants’ special motion to dismiss the lawsuit relied in part on a 1995 case, Nielsen v. Kezer, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court determined that it could not interfere in A Connecticut Party’s (ACP) decision to endorse a specific candidate at its convention. Following this precedent, the Superior Court’s ruling against Chiaia-Logie et al. stated “the court cannot find anything demonstrably unlawful or patently irrational about the decision invalidating the January 4, 2022 meeting because of inadequate notice.”

Stevens found “the plaintiffs’ arguments that the RSCC’s by-laws are inapplicable to this dispute [to be] wholly specious and they even fail to explain how the grievances should have otherwise been resolved or by whom.” In sum, Stevens concluded that the plaintiffs’ arguments that the RSCC had no authority to invalidate the Jan. 4 caucus were “meritless and rejected (them).”

“Political parties resolve their disputes internally because they are expressing the will of their members,” said Attorney Proloy K. Das, who represented the RSCC in the lawsuit. “This process is protected by the First Amendment’s right to free association and that’s why courts won’t interfere in those internal decisions.”

Attorney Deborah Stevenson, who represented the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to the Courier’s request for comment.

The judge’s ruling rendered on Dec. 8 ends a drawn-out legal battle that forced the town of Easton to pay $4,750 to defend itself. Former Town Clerk Christine Halloran and Registrar of Voters Dori Wollen are named in the lawsuit for their roles throughout the caucus and petitioning process, and for following the RSCC’s ruling to invalidate the Jan. 4 caucus.

“[The lawsuit] was mostly directed to the Connecticut Republican State Committee,” said First Selectman David Bindelglass. “The town’s role was minimal, but it cost us time and money.”

The anti-SLAPP statute does allow successful defendants to attempt to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and other court costs from the plaintiff.

Chiaia-Logie and Dacey filed another lawsuit against the town in 2019, naming former First Selectman Adam Dunsby and current Easton Selectmen Robert Lessler and Kristi Sogofsky among the defendants. That case, which alleged elected officials were not following Connecticut statutes that govern Easton’s local town meetings, was also dismissed by the court, according to a Dec. 9 update posted to the Superior Court’s online docket.

Ten of the ERTC members who initially lost their seats during the Jan. 4 caucus successfully petitioned for a primary to win their seats back. A March 1, 2022 primary was scheduled but subsequently canceled because the RSCC ruled that the Jan. 4 caucus was invalid.

With the caucus invalidated, the 10 petitioning candidates became the only legal members of the ERTC and elected 16 additional members to the committee at their March 9 meeting. One petitioning candidate dropped out of the primary, leaving only nine members, and Raymond Martin was named chairman with Bowditch as vice chair. Martin has since stepped down and Bowditch, who was named in the lawsuit, is now serving as the chairman of the committee.

“I’m looking forward to the future,” Bowditch said. “The Republican Town Committee is functional, and we are looking forward to next year and municipal elections.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email