Special Report: Brookhaven Town Clerk (Part 2)

Background CheckFiles 4

By J. Gavron and A.Turner

This Special Report investigates Brookhaven Town Clerk, Donna Lent, who’s running for re-election on Nov. 7th. Get the facts on Lent before you vote.

Missed a Background Check? Part 1

Did you know….

  • Rather than follow the rules, Donna Lent violated a court order (twice!)
  • Donna Lent narrowly escaped being held in contempt by NYS Supreme Court

READ THE FULL REPORT

As Brookhaven Town Clerk, one of Donna Lent’s current projects is to “recodify” the Town Code, the set of rules by which the town’s 486,040 residents[1] must abide, according to The South Shore Press.[2] This project will ensure that the Town Code is up-to-date and accurate, and clearly explains what Brookhaven residents can and cannot do.

For some people, however, understanding the rules—and even being admonished for breaking them— is no guarantee they’ll follow them in the future. A good case in point is Brookhaven Town Clerk Donna Lent.

Here’s what Background Check uncovered:

As Secretary of the Suffolk County Working Families Party, Donna Lent directly violated a court order and narrowly escaped being held in contempt by a NYS Supreme Court Justice.

Self-interest v. public interest . . . . .    In 2003, Donna Lent and Charles Pohonka III—Secretary and President of the Suffolk County Working Families Party, respectively—were nominating candidates from other parties whose positions were not aligned with those of the WFP. According to the state party’s Executive Director, they were more interested in “making patronage deals” than in promoting the party’s mission to increase the minimum wage and improve healthcare.[3]

As a result, the state party adopted a new rule designed to prevent Lent and Pohonka from adding candidates to its line. This rule gave the state—not the county—the exclusive power to allow candidates from other parties to run on the Working Families Party line (a practice known as issuing a Wilson-Pakula certificate).

Lent won’t take ‘no’ for an answer . . . . . In 2006 Lent and Pohanka challenged the validity of this new rule, but the Appellate Division sided with the state party and upheld it.[4] Despite that ruling, in 2007 Lent and Pohanka again issued a Wilson-Pakula certificate and placed Republican Daniel P. Losquadro on the WFP line. The state party sought to enforce its rule and prevailed in court: NYS Supreme Court Justice McKenzie nullified the certificate, holding that it violated the state party rule and ordered the Executive Committee of the county party—of which Lent was a member—to cease issuing certificates of authorization. That decision was described as follows:

“The order of Judge McKenzie clearly states the County Committee is not       empowered to issue the Certificates… for candidates [who are not  members of the WFP], and that the State rules control….The order further enjoins the County Committee and the Executive Committee of the [SCWFP] from filing any further Certificates …so long as the State Rules remain in effect….”[5]

Repeat offender . . . . . Less than a month after the court’s ruling against them, Lent and Pohonka again disobeyed the rule prohibiting them from issuing certificates of authorization. They nominated two Republican candidates to the WFP line: Daniel LoSquadro for the Suffolk County Legislature and Edward D. Burke, Sr. for Southampton Town Justice. The state party was forced to defend itself yet again.

According to the court, there was no doubt that Lent and Pohanka had once again violated the state party’s rules. But, more significantly, this time they had defied a court order that specifically directed the county party and its Executive Committee—of which Lent was a member—not to issue any further certificates.

Here’s what the court said:

“Clearly respondents Pohanka and Lent . . . . . have issued certificates of substitution and authorization in violation of the Rules of the Working Families Party of [NYS] . . . and, more importantly, in direct violation of the order dated September 5, 2007 issued by the Hon. Carol McKenzie, Justice of the Supreme Court of Suffolk County which specifically enjoined the County Committee and the Executive Committee of the Suffolk County Working Families Party from issuing any further certificates of authorizations.[6]

The New York State Working Families Party sought to have Lent and others held in contempt for issuing the certificates, an offense that could have led to penalties such as fines or imprisonment. Lent narrowly escaped the charge only because the court had not named her individually in its injunction—it had only named the Executive Committee of which she was a member.[7]

Endgame. . . . . Soon after Lent’s close encounter with a contempt charge, she left the Working Families Party and joined the Independence Party. Why? Perhaps leaving the party suited her better than following its rules.

These are our sources:

[1] U.S. Census Bureau

[2] Race for the Brookhaven Town Clerk Heats Up, by Barbara LaMonica, The South Shore Press, May 17, 2017

[3] Politics and Power, 2003 Endorsement Haunts Lent, by Rick Brand, Newsday, Oct. 18, 2004

[4] Matter of Pohanka v. Working Families Party of N.Y. State, 30 A.D.3d 625 (2nd Dept. 2006), lv denied, 7 N.Y.3d 706 (2006)

[5] Matter of Pohanka v. Working Families Party of N.Y. State, 17 Misc. 3d 1119(A) (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co.) (Oct. 23, 2007), explaining Matter of Pohanka v. Working Families Party of N.Y. State, Order dated Sept. 5, 2007 (Sup. Ct. Suff. Co.) (Hon. Carol McKenzie), aff’d, 43 A.D3d 835 (2d Dept (Sept. 10, 2007), aff’d 10 N.Y.3d 620 (2008)

[6] Matter of Pohanka v. Working Families Party of NYS, 17 Misc. 3d 1119(A) (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co.) (Oct. 23, 2007), modified, 44 A.D.3d 1050 (2007)

[7] Ibid.

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One Response to Special Report: Brookhaven Town Clerk (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: EXCLUSIVE: Brookhaven Town Clerk Violates Ethics Code (Part 3) | Resist and Replace

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