Judge recuses self from lawsuit over paperwork flub

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Vickie Nardello

WATERBURY — A superior court judge has recused himself from a lawsuit over a Democratic candidate’s flub that may have cost her the ability to run in a 16th Senatorial District primary.

During a hearing Monday, Judge Mark Taylor cited a past connection to the Democratic caucus and said he’d transfer the case to Judge Salvatore Agati, who is also based in Waterbury Superior Court.

The plaintiff, Vickie Orsini Nardello, filed the suit against Secretary of the State Denise Merrill after losing her party’s endorsement at a convention on May 21. Nardello received 42 percent of delegates’ votes, which was more than enough to qualify for a primary.

Nardello, planning to challenge the party’s endorsed candidate, Dagmara Scalise, filed paperwork with Merrill’s office on May 25 but failed to fill out a box that asked for her district number.

A Merrill staffer noticed the omission and contacted the Connecticut Democratic Party. On May 31, a party representative, Irene Clark-Burgess, went to the Secretary of the State’s Office to correct the deficiency. However, she wrote the wrong district number, according to court documents.

On June 1, Merrill’s chief of staff, Shannon Wegele, sent a copy of the completed form to Nardello, and Nardello sent her a text message informing her of the problem.

Wegele responded that she would “fix it.” In an affidavit, Wegele explained that by “fix” she meant “ensure the process of contacting the political party or caucus would be followed.”

However, Wegele didn’t know the deadline for the paperwork, based on state statute, was 4 p.m. June 4 — and Nardello apparently didn’t tell her.

On June 4, another Merrill staffer contacted the Connecticut Democratic Party about the error on Nardello’s form. The next day, a party representative fixed it. But because the deadline had passed, Merrill’s office rejected her certificate of eligibility.

Nardello’s lawsuit seeks a court injunction ordering Merrill to place her name on the ballot for the Aug. 14 primary. To meet the ballot-printing deadline, a ruling in Nardello’s favor would have to come by July 15.

Nardello’s attorney, Bridgeport-based William Bloss, said the parties agree on “95 percent of the facts” because there’s a digital trail of emails and text messages between them. The main legal question is whether Merrill’s office could have waived the deadline requirement.

“It’s the secretary of the state’s opinion that she doesn’t have the authority to put somebody on the ballot who has not met the statutory requirements,” said Maura Murphy Osborne, an assistant attorney general who is representing the defendant.

Nardello lives in Prospect and previously served nine terms as a state representative for the 89th District. The 16th District includes Wolcott, Prospect, Southington and parts of Waterbury and Cheshire. State Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, is his party’s nominee for the seat, now held by Republican Joe Markley, who is running for lieutenant governor.