A judge ruled today that the Erie County Republican Party acted illegally in its assistance to Joel A. Giambra's primary campaign for county executive. State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled the county GOP violated state election law on party spending in primary elections when it helped pay former Albany political operative Timothy M. Doolittle for work on the Giambra campaign after July 13.
Michalek ordered the county GOP to refrain from such spending in the future but did not impose financial penalties, noting that the Giambra campaign reimbursed the GOP for Doolittle's salary.
Giambra and GOP officials could not be reached to comment, but Jeff Baran, who is vying for the GOP nomination in Tuesday's primary, and John M. Curran, Baran's lawyer, called the ruling a "legal victory."
"It's comforting to know that a judge agreed with us that the money donated by Republicans to the party has to go to Republican candidates," Baran said.
Baran, a former Clarence businessman who stepped down in May as the executive director of the state's Christian Coalition to seek the county executive's post, said he has found much discontent on the campaign trail from Republicans upset with party funding for Giambra, a former Democrat.
Curran, who also announced that he will be seeking re-election to his seat on the Town of Orchard Park bench and will not run for State Supreme Court this year, said he was "ecstatic" that the judge found the county GOP committee in violation of state election law.
John R. Drexelius Jr., attorney for the county party, said he will have to consult with party officials about further action in the case, but he stressed that he thinks the matter should be reviewed by the State Court of Appeals because of constitutional issues governing party spending.
"We did it the way the state Board of Elections told us to do it," Drexelius said in defending county GOP spending.
Drexelius said he feels the state's highest court needs to clarify "how we (party officials) can have people on staff paid for" in campaigns.
In his ruling, Michalek noted that on Aug. 18 the five-judge Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester set aside his Aug. 12 ruling directing Giambra to repay the county GOP $10,000 in the campaign-funding flap and sent the case back to him.
In ruling from the bench, Michalek stressed that the appellate court directed him to determine if there was any illegal party spending for Giambra after July 13, when Baran officially became an opponent in the GOP primary.
Michalek stressed that his subsequent review of GOP checks, which Baran and Curran contended had been backdated to get around the Rochester court's July 13 cut-off date, and other party records confirmed election law violations on Doolittle's compensation.