Latest LaPietra case stalled in court
By Patsy Nicosia and Jim Poole
Efforts to have Bob LaPietra kicked out as Village of Cobleskill trustee before he’s even taken office stalled Monday after State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine recused himself from a hearing on the case.
That didn’t stop Schoharie County Board of Elections Commissioners Lewis Wilson and Cliff Hay from certifying results from the November 4 election, letting Mr. LaPietra keep the seat—for now.
“We said we’d wait till 1pm as a courtesy to the court, but there’s no reason now to wait,” said Mr. Hay, after Monday’s 11:30pm hearing was adjourned.
According to Court Clerk Chris Spies, Judge Devine recused himself after learning his law clerk is the daughter of Mr. LaPietra’s attorney, James Long of Albany.
Judge John Egan Jr. will now take arguments in the case in Albany—not Schoharie—possibly as soon as today, Tuesday.
At issue—still—is whether Mr. LaPietra, elected trustee in a contentious three-way race, is a legal resident.
In a closed session last Tuesday, the Village of Cobleskill agreed to seek a “declaratory judgment” over whether Mr. LaPietra was a resident when he was elected, as required by public officers’ law; election law, requires residency to serve, but not necessarily to be elected, said Deputy Mayor Sandy MacKay and Schoharie County Attorney Mike West agreed.
“What we’re arguing for is common sense,” Mr. West said. “That’s how the law is supposed to work.
“The people elected him. Now a select few are trying to keep him off the board. They’re so paranoid…The village will survive this one man.”
Mr. LaPietra said the village’s case is nothing more than harassment.
“I had an apartment at 784 West Main and they put me out,” he said. “They physically evicted me. Now they claim I’m not a resident.”
Mr. LaPietra was evicted because his apartment at 784 West Main was in violation of the village’s zoning code for more than a year.
He’s also been charged with more than 30 felony counts of first-degree perjury and filing a false instrument in connection with his trustee petition.
Should he be convicted on those charges, he said he won’t step down.
“No surrender and no retreat,” Mr. LaPietra said. “Four -hundred people voted for me. These few people think I shouldn’t serve. This is something you see in a communist country.”
Mr. MacKay said the village’s action came on the advice of its attorney, Meredith Savitt, who’s concerned that if Mr. LaPietra isn’t a legal trustee, any decisions made with him on the board could be thrown out.
“We’re not suing to get him off,” Mr. MacKay said. “We want the judge to make the decision. We’re just presenting the facts. It’s up to the judge to say yes or no.”
Mr. LaPietra countered that the charges are an attempt to keep him from voting on the budget, which could be adopted as soon as tonight; even if he’s allowed to serve that won’t happen until December 1.
“I don’t know what they’re afraid of,” he said. “I’m only one vote on the board. If they don’t like what I’m doing, vote no against me.”