Harris Beach attorneys Jared Kasschau and Brian Ginsberg, both partners in the firm’s Political Law Group, achieved a precedent-setting victory for the City of Yonkers last week. In a closely watched case that has already garnered media attention, Jared and Brian persuaded the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division – Second Department to uphold the validity of the City’s recently enacted law extending from three to four the number of consecutive four-year terms that persons can serve as members of the City’s legislative body, known as the City Council, or as Mayor. Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and multiple members of the City Council are serving their third terms in office, meaning that they would have been term-limited out of office had the extension not been upheld.
In December 2022, soon after the term-limit extension was adopted, a group of Yonkers residents sued the City and challenged the law in Supreme Court, Westchester County. They claimed that the City Council, in passing the law, and the Mayor, in signing it, violated the City’s code of ethics governing the behavior of public officials, on the ground that the City Council and Mayor took actions that had the potential to inure to their financial benefit. The Yonkers residents also claimed that the term-limit extension was ineffective unless and until ratified by the voters at large in a citywide referendum. In April 2023, a team led by Jared successfully defeated the lawsuit at the trial level.
In May 2023, the Yonkers residents appealed to the Second Department, and Brian—who is also a member of the Appellate Practice Group—joined the Harris Beach team. With the June 2023 primary elections on the horizon, the court expedited the appeal, giving the Harris Beach team only a couple of weeks to prepare a brief fully addressing the complex issues involved in the case.
In the brief, Brian and Jared explained why the term-limit extension neither constituted a prohibited conflict of interest nor required a citywide referendum before it could go into effect. Last Friday, in front of a capacity crowd in the courthouse gallery, Brian presented oral argument in the appeal, fielding all manner of questions from the lively four-judge panel that heard the case. Later that same day, the court issued a thorough, written opinion unanimously adopting the Harris Beach team’s legal arguments, thereby preserving the hard-fought win.
“We are very pleased to have helped the great City of Yonkers achieve such an important legal victory,” Brian said. “The appellate court’s decision ensures that Yonkers voters will have the freedom to vote for their preferred candidates and will not be artificially restricted from voting for a candidate simply because he or she has already served three terms in office.”