Democrat Michelle L. Winters can keep her seat on the Gloucester Township Council, a judge in Camden County ruled this week, rejecting an argument by the township Republican committee that her appointment was improper.
Winters, a registered nurse from Blenheim, was appointed by the all-Democratic council on Feb. 11 to replace Michelle Gentek, who left the council in January after being elected a freeholder.
On March 13, the GOP committee and its chairman, Ray Polidoro, filed a complaint in Superior Court saying the township Democratic committee and the council had not met the deadline for filling the vacancy and must therefore leave the seat vacant until it could be filled in the November election.
The suit "is not politically motivated," Polidoro said in March. However, he did think, given Gov. Christie's popularity, that the Republicans had a shot at winning the seat.
Attorneys for both sides are claiming vindication, even though the Republicans did not accomplish their chief goal of having the seat vacated.
"We are well satisfied and happy with the judge's decision," said David Carlamere, the township attorney. The Democratic committee "believed as I did that council had the obligation to fill the vacancy and could not leave it vacant."
Carlamere acknowledged that the Democratic committee did not meet the deadline for submitting nominees for the vacant seat to the council.
But, he said, the law is unclear about the consequences of missing a deadline. However, it clearly mandates that the vacancy must be filled, which the council did.
Cherry Hill lawyer Matthew S. Wolf, who said he represented the Republicans pro bono, was also satisfied with the outcome of the case before Superior Court Judge Stephen N. Holden.
"The judge found," Wolf said, "that [the council] did not follow the law. He found that they followed the spirit of the law, so they got lucky that the judge didn't hammer them.
"What we set out to do, which was to school the government, we accomplished."
He said the Republicans had not decided whether to appeal, but said having the issue taken up by an appellate court would be useful to other municipalities that find themselves in the same situation.