A judge late today ordered New York’s split Senate into a working session but the Republican-led coalition that seized power three weeks ago promised an appeal that is likely to delay the passage of any legislation. Gov. David Paterson has called the two squabbling factions to work every day for a week since a power struggle resulted in gridlock, with no bills passed since the June 8 overthrow. The Democrats and the Republican-led coalition had been answering Paterson’s order by meeting separately and conducting no official business.The factions are deadlocked 31-31 in a dispute over which has majority control. Negotiations over sharing power have failed so far.
“To come into session as separate groups is a fiction,” State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi said Monday. “I will not be part of that fiction.”
Attorneys for both sides argued that what happens in the Senate is up to the senators and that neither governors nor judges should get involved. Teresi said he didn’t disagree.
However, the judge said the state constitution gives the governor the power to call lawmakers, including the Senate by itself, into special session under extraordinary circumstances. These circumstances qualify, he said, noting many of the 85 measures Paterson has called them into session to consider are time-sensitive and essential state financial matters.
John Casey, a lawyer representing the 30 Republicans who formed a coalition with a dissident Democrat and claim to have taken over Senate leadership, said he will file a notice of appeal Tuesday morning. That should result in an automatic stay of Teresi’s order, he said.
However, Paterson later said he was changing his proclamation for a special session Tuesday to have the Senate convene at 10 a.m., the same time the judge set, instead of the afternoon. He also urged New Yorkers to get involved, saying several financial measures are set to expire at midnight Tuesday.
“Pick up a phone. Call a senator. Tell them to get back to work,” Paterson said.
Senate Democratic leaders said they will be there Tuesday morning, offering to share leadership with Republican senators and alternate running the session by the hour or by the half-day. “The judge has ruled we should all be in the chamber at the same time. And we believe the judge is right,” Sen. Malcolm Smith of Queens said.
Two other state judges declined to rule in the Senate dispute. Asked to determine which group rightfully elected the Senate’s presiding officer, both said under the state constitution its up to the senators to sort out their own affairs.
The Democratic and Republican-led factions met together last Tuesday in the Senate chamber but held simultaneous sessions that included sharp words, jeers and laughter directed at each other.