The Niagara County Board of Elections was to conduct a hearing today on canceling the voter registration of county Conservative Party chairman Al C. Hollands for non-residency, even though Hollands and his new attorney will not attend. However, both sides said the matter is likely to end up in court.
Hollands, an elected Conservative Party committeeman from Wilson, has been the party's Niagara County chairman for more than a decade. His wife is registered to vote in Buffalo, and he owns a home in Ontario, Canada. State law says that party committeemen must reside in the county and Assembly district from from they have been elected.
"We're going to proceed administratively with our hearing," Republican Election Commissioner Lucille L. Britt said. "They'll go to court whether we hold that meeting now, next week, or next year."
Hollands' attorney, Thomas J. Spargo of Albany, said the Election Law gives a voter the right of judicial review of a canceled registration. "At some point, we would probably seek that," Spargo said, unless the election commissioners decide Hollands is a legal resident of the county.
Without Hollands and Spargo, the hearing will consist primarily of reviewing this fall's Sheriff's Department investigation into Hollands' residency. "We're going to have to make a decision (today)," Mrs. Britt said. "I don't want this to drag along."
Hollands' former attorney, Richard C. Kloch of North Tonawanda, indicated he directed Hollands to Spargo, a friend of Kloch's for a decade.
"Spargo is probably the best Election Law attorney in New York," Kloch said. "He's the man." Spargo was counsel to the State Senate Election Law Committee from 1980 to 1990, and counsel to the state Republican Committee from 1974 to 1990.
In private practice, some of his recent Election Law victories included persuading a judge this September to disallow Amherst residents' petitions for a referendum on an ice rink project, and winning access to New York's GOP presidential primary ballot for publisher Steve Forbes in 1996.
Hollands said he had to get a new attorney because Kloch is receiving an assistant county attorney post from the new Republican-controlled County Legislature.
"That makes it a conflict," Hollands said when reached in Ridgeway, Ont. "I had no choice." He refused to answer further questions.
Spargo said other commitments and Tuesday's eastern New York snowstorm make it impossible for him to attend today's hearing, and he recommended that Hollands not appear without a lawyer.
Mrs. Britt and her Democratic colleague, Michael J. Beeny, wrote Hollands Dec. 1 canceling his registration because they said a Sheriff's investigation concluded it was apparent that Hollands did not live at 3316 Beebe Road, Wilson, the address on his voter registration.
A large stone house at that address is partially caved in, and has broken windows and doors. The election commissioners have said that mail sent there in the past was returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable until Hollands put up a mailbox last year.
However, Spargo said, "That's where he wants his home to be. That's where he intends to live and that is determinative. . . . I'll work closely with Al to show that this (Beebe Road) is in fact that proper place for him to be (registered)."
"One of the nice things about voting is they allow the homeless to vote from sidewalk grates in New York City," Spargo said. He also noted that former Gov. Mario Cuomo is registered to vote in his native Queens even though he now lives in Manhattan. "He said his heart is in Queens," Spargo said.
The Board of Elections letter gave Hollands 14 days to respond to the cancellation. After some confusion over whether the deadline had been met, the commissioners scheduled today's hearing at the urging of Kloch.