No reason to continue the litigation other than the conflicting childish egos

To the Editor:

In my commentary about the lawsuit seeking to require Albany County to include five districts with a majority of minority population, published by The Enterprise on Jan. 7, 2015, I wrote:  “Bluntly stated, if the county’s lawyers are telling legislators that this is a case that is likely to be won, they are either kidding themselves or, worse, misrepresenting the situation to their clients.”

Last week, United States District Judge Lawrence Kahn proved me right, ruling against the county on all significant issues, directing the preparation of a new reapportionment map within three weeks, and awarding the plaintiffs attorneys fees, in an amount which is likely to exceed $1 million.

If the county had settled this case in January, either by one of the two settlements that were considered, or, if there were legitimate reasons not to accept the reapportionment maps that were proposed, by devising an alternative plan that would have still accepted the basic principle of five majority minority districts, the county could have limited its liability for attorneys fees to $750,000 and, while it may not be important to the legislators, the county executive, or the county attorney, our elected officials could have avoided looking as foolish as they now appear.

There was no reason to continue the litigation other than the conflicting childish egos of the county executive and the county. Those county legislators who abdicated any responsibility by saying, “Let the court decide” should be especially ashamed, if they are capable of shame.

In the first place, relying on the court to do something that you ought to do yourself is irresponsible, and, secondly, it was very predictable what the court was going to do.

I am pleasantly surprised that my prediction was wrong on two counts: Judge Kahn did decide the case relatively quickly, and it appears that the county is finally going to do the right thing, and accept the decision and not drag the case out for several more years.

However, the speed with which this complicated case was decided, and the comprehensiveness of the determination make it clear that the issue was never in doubt: Judge Kahn’s decision is the logical outgrowth of his earlier rulings, and demonstrates that the county’s attorneys who supposedly said that the county was likely to win in this case were either incompetent or grossly irresponsible.

County Attorney Thomas Marcelle was considered too extreme to be appointed to the federal bench, but was nevertheless appointed as county attorney by a Democratic county executive. Significantly, he was appointed shortly after the 2011 elections, where the countywide Democratic candidates ran unopposed.

County Executive McCoy justified Mr. Marcelle’s appointment by citing Mr. Marcelle’s impressive background. At the very least, the fiasco of this voting rights case should raise questions of competence, as well as ideology.

I would like to believe that our elected officials, even when I disagree with them, are intelligent well-meaning people who act rationally and obtain the best technical and legal assistance possible. Sometimes it is impossible to maintain such a belief, in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Peter Henner


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