Ruling clears way for candidate to primary

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Vickie Nardello

WATERBURY — A judge on Tuesday granted a reprieve that keeps former state Rep. Vickie Nardello’s latest comeback try alive.

A paperwork error and a series of missteps that followed almost kept Nardello off the Aug. 14 primary ballot for the Democratic nomination for the open seat in the 16th Senatorial District.

There was no dispute that the Prospect Democrat received more than enough delegate votes at the Democratic convention on May 21 to qualify for a primary run-off against Dagmara Scalise, the winner of the Democratic endorsement.

A problem arose because the district number was omitted on the required form that was delivered to the Secretary of the State’s office on May 25 that certified Nardello had received the requisite level of support to proceed.

A month later, Nardello filed a legal action in Waterbury Superior Court seeking a court order to compel Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to place her name on the Democratic primary ballot after Merrill’s office disqualified her.

In a 21-page ruling issued Tuesday, Judge Salvatore Agati concluded Nardello was entitled to her primary shot given the circumstances and facts that each side outlined.

Nardello blamed Merrill’s office for much of what transpired after the original paperwork error, and Agati found she had relied on assurances from Merrill’s chief of staff that the problem would be rectified.

“It is obvious to the court that between the parties, different interpretations could be made as to who ultimately should have borne responsibility for correcting the error on Ms. Nardello’s certificate. However, the court finds that Ms. Nardello made appropriate efforts to resolve the error by notifying the defendant of the problem. Ms. Nardello relied on the response she received from the Secretary of State’s office that the matter would be corrected,” the ruling said.

In late May, a Merrill staffer alerted the state Democratic Party that Nardello neglected to list district number on her certification form. On May 31, a party representative went to Merrill’s office to correct the mistake, but incorrectly wrote Nardello was running in the 15th Senatorial District, not the 16th.

In a text message exchange on June 1, Nardello brought the inaccuracy to Merrill’s chief of staff, Shannon Wegele, and asked if there was anything more she needed to do to ensure it was amended. Wegele responded by saying she would “fix it,” but failed to do so by the application’s June 4 deadline.

“It is Ms. Nardello’s burden to prove that she exercised due diligence. The court finds that she has sustained that burden. She has proven that she lacked any knowledge of the original omission, the initial correction made to the form and of any involvement by the Democratic Party. She was also unaware of the Office of the Secretary of State’s communications with the Democratic Party about the problem with her certificate,” Agati said.

Nardello had represented the 89th Assembly District for nine terms until she was defeated in 2012. She lost a 2014 rematch against Republican Lezlye Zupkus.

The 16th District seat is open because state Sen. Joseph Markley, of Southington, decided to run for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. The Republican nominee is state Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott. The district includes all of Prospect, Southington and Wolcott, and parts of Cheshire and Waterbury.