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Newton holds off printing School Committee ballot as Yeo appeals residency ruling

Posted by Daniel Adams  October 11, 2011 03:18 PM

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Jonathan Yeo has appealed a Middlesex Superior Court ruling that would strike his name from the Ward 2 School Committee ballot in Newton’s upcoming election.

The city is holding off printing ballots for the Nov. 8 election pending Yeo's appeal, which is scheduled to be heard at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday before Justice Elspeth Cypher. The standoff is the latest development in an ongoing controversy over Yeo’s legal residence.

Last week, a Superior Court judge overturned an earlier decision by the Newton Election Commission to let Yeo run, saying he was a resident of Ward 4, not Ward 2, when election paperwork became available in March.

‘‘The Commission committed an error of law when it concluded that Yeo’s domicil as of March 7, 2011 was the Ward 2 house,’’ Judge Edward P. Leibensperger said in his decision. ‘‘The Court concludes that the Commission’s error was substantial and that it negatively affected the material rights of the voters of Newton because it allowed the inclusion of an ineligible candidate.’’

If Yeo’s name is stricken, Margaret Albright would be the only candidate on the School Committee ballot from Ward 2. Yeo said his campaign has asked the city to hold off on printing ballots for the Nov. 8 election pending his appeal.

“We hope and expect the Court of Appeals will uphold the Newton Election Commission’s decision,” Yeo said. “We think that the Election Commission got it right. ... Meanwhile, my campaign moves on and continues to get a lot of support.”

David Olson, Newton’s city clerk, said that the printing of ballots was “on hold at the moment.” Normally, ballots would have been printed by now, he said.

Olson said a lottery to determine the order in which the candidates will appear on the ballot will be held as scheduled tonight and would include Yeo’s name. If Yeo loses his appeal, his name will simply be removed from the order, leaving Albright as the only remaining candidate.

Olson said that time was running short to print ballots in time for the election.
“We are hoping by Friday we can get this all straightened out,” he said.

State election laws would preclude Yeo from staging a last minute write-in campaign, since write-in candidates also have to meet the residency requirement, Olson said.

Yeo said the initial Election Commission hearing that upheld his candidacy was lengthy and thorough. He derided those challenging his residency status as politically motivated.

“They’re longtime, very active supporters of my opponent. It’s very clear what’s going on here. They’re trying to get me off the ballot," Yeo said. "The concept that I would run in my old ward, Ward 4, is crazy. I think most people, when you think of the common sense answer, you run from the ward I live in, which is Ward 2. I haven’t been in Ward 4 this whole campaign. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Albright said she did not coordinate with those challenging Yeo’s candidacy.

“I’m just going about my business,” she said, “concentrating on the schools, on the issues that pertain to our schools, and what’s best for our students… I have never been involved.”

Last year, Yeo sold his longtime Auburndale residence in Ward 4 to nearby Lasell College, according to court documents. Yeo has served three terms on the School Committee as the representative from Ward 4. In November of last year, Yeo purchased a home in Newtonville, which is in Ward 2. However, under an arrangement with Lasell College, Yeo continued to live in Auburndale while renovations were underway at the Newtonville house.

When election forms became available in March, Yeo listed his address in Newtonville and applied to run as a Ward 2 candidate. But until June, Yeo still primarily resided in Auburndale with his family, sleeping there each night, according to the judge’s decision.

A group of residents challenged Yeo’s candidacy, asserting that he failed to meet the residency requirement on the day paperwork became available in March. The Election Commission narrowly overturned that challenge, voting 3-2 to keep Yeo on the ballot.

The objectors, led by attorney Peter Harrington, appealed the Commission’s decision in Middlesex Superior Court.

The judge, Edward Leibensperger, said that under the residency requirement, only Yeo’s status on March 7 mattered, since that was the day nomination papers became available.

Leibensperger cited previous cases in defining “home” as “the place where a person dwells and which is the center of his domestic, social and civil life.” He wrote that Yeo’s “such center was at the Ward 4 House —where his family lived, where he returned every night, and where he received School Committee materials — not at the Ward 2 House.”

Harrington called the Middlesex Superior Court ruling “correct, accurate and appropriate.”

“It was very clear that the judge determined he was not a resident of Ward 2 on March 7, and did not become a resident until some time after that,” Harrington said.

Yeo said the controversy flew in the face of common sense.

“It’s a very disappointing turn for Newton politics. I think many, many people are discouraged by this turn of events.”

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com.

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