The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York is backing Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s attempt to overturn local term limits, according to recently filed court papers. (Read the proposed amicus brief.) Earlier this year, Spota, along with the Suffolk County sheriff and clerk, sued the county, challenging a 1993 amendment to its charter imposing a 12-year limit on their positions and other offices (NYLJ, Feb. 16). In Spota v. County of Suffolk, 04268/2012, the plaintiffs contended their positions are defined by the state Constitution and their terms of office cannot be changed by local resolutions.
In a July 17 proposed amicus brief, the bar group backs Spota’s arguments. The county’s term-limit law, it argues, is “patently violative of state law, and, thus, is constitutionally unenforceable, as the Office of the District Attorney—specifically the qualifications of the person to hold the office, and the authority and responsibilities of the office holder—are exclusively defined, and controlled, by state law.” Allowing enforcement of the law, the amicus later continues, “would seriously undermine the independence of the office in the investigation and enforcement of the State’s criminal laws.”
Enforcement of the term limits, the amicus adds, would also violate the separation of powers between a county entity and executive branch member having a statewide function. For instance, with term limits, a prosecutor is “effectively removed” by the local legislature—but only the governor can remove a sitting district attorney under the state Constitution, the amicus says.
Spota’s suit is before Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo.