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Jonathan Yeo to remain on Newton School Committee ballot, Appeals Court rules

Posted by Daniel Adams  November 1, 2011 03:00 PM

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After a months-long legal battle over whether Jonathan Yeo met the residency requirement to be a candidate for Newton School Committee, the state Appeals Court ruled today that his name will stay on the ballot.

The three judges restored an August judgment by the Newton Election Commission that said Yeo was a resident of Ward 2 on the legal deadline to meet the residency requirement, thus making him an eligible candidate.

Peter Harrington, a lawyer for the two Newton residents who challenged Yeo’s candidacy, vowed to fight on. Harrington said he would file an appeal to Supreme Judicial Court tomorrow.

Yeo was serving his third term on the School Committee from Ward 4 when he purchased a new house in Ward 2. Because he continued to live in his old home while renovations were underway at his Ward 2 residence, two Newton residents asked the Newton Election Commission to have Yeo thrown off the ballot.

Those residents, Daniel L. Fahey and James W. Bueche, took their fight all the way from the local Election Commission to the state's highest courts through a series of appeals. Today’s judgment reinstates the original Election Commission decision that Yeo was technically a Ward 2 resident in March when nominating papers were made available.

Yeo said the ruling was expected, and that he was "very happy" to remain on the ballot.

"I’m not surprised, after hearing the testimony and the dialogue with the justices in the courtroom. The arguments by the objectors, in the end, it never made any sense. I think common sense prevailed."

Yeo called the challenge illogical because, if successful, Newton law would also prohibit him from running in Ward 4, meaning he was effectively barred from seeking office.

"You can’t have somebody who is a longtime resident of town, but they can’t run for office," he said. "That’s got to be un-American."

Harrington disagreed, saying that Newton has a "village" feel and that moving from one Ward to another is like moving to another town.

"If you live in Brookline and you’re going to move to Newton, and you want to run for School Committee, you have to move in time to qualify."

Harrington’s clients, Fahey and Bueche, have won just a single victory so far, when Middlesex Superior Court Judge Edward Leibensperger briefly overturned the Commission's ruling and ordered the Newton city clerk to strike Yeo's name from the ballot.

Appeals Court Judge Elspeth Cypher quickly overruled Leibensperger, setting the stage for successive appeals by the challengers. Harrington first asked Cypher to reconsider her decision. She declined. Another appeal, this time to a full panel of three Appeals Court justices, was also dismissed by the court. However, the Supreme Judicial Court asked the panel to hear the case, which they did last Thursday. Today’s ruling in favor of Yeo comes as a result of that hearing.

Residents won't know until Election Day whether the protracted fight over Yeo's candidate status was more bruising to him or to his opponent, Margaret Albright, who has insisted she was not involved in the challenge to his candidacy.

"I’ve been caught up in people accusing me of doing something I’m not doing," she said, citing the fact that she was unaware of the latest ruling when reached for comment by a Globe reporter. "I don’t feel it’s my place… to tell the plaintiffs what to do. They have a question about the city’s charter and they have every right to pursue that."

"My concern is my School Committee race and what I want to talk about are the issues."

Yeo said he doesn’t think the drawn-out challenge will cloud his campaign.

"I got a lot of feedback from people around town, grocery stores, on the street, at fairs, on the campaign trail, and many, many people were not happy about case against me. That’s all I heard."

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

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