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Court of Appeals dismisses latest challenge to Yeo's school candidacy in Newton

Posted by Daniel Adams  October 21, 2011 01:05 PM

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The state Court of Appeals has dismissed the latest appeal by two Newton residents challenging Jonathan Yeo's candidacy for Newton School Committee, according to court documents.

The ruling Thursday is the latest setback for Dan Fahey and James Beuche, who want Yeo thrown off the ballot for failing to meet the residency requirement for holding public office. Appeals Court Judge Elspeth Cypher declined earlier this week to hear a motion asking her to reconsider an earlier ruling that affirmed Yeo's candidacy.

The legal back-and-forth centers around whether Yeo is eligible to run from Ward 2, where he recently purchased a home. Yeo is running for a fourth term; he had previously served on the School Committee from Ward 4.

Peter Harrington, a lawyer who represents the challengers, could not be immediately reached for comment. He had previously said he wouldn't be surprised if the case was ultimately decided before the Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in the state.

"It may have ramifications that no one anticipates," Harrington said earlier this week, citing tax cases that often invoke residency requirements.

Yeo's lawyer, Robert Sinsheimer, told the Globe earlier this week that he is confident that Yeo will prevail.

Yeo's sole opponent is Margaret Albright, a longtime community volunteer. Albright has denied any involvement in the challenge to Yeo's candidacy, which Yeo has called politically motivated

In a decision last week, Appeals Court Associate Justice Elspeth Cypher restored an initial determination by the Newton Election Commission that Yeo was legally living in Ward 2 when election forms became available in March, and therefore is eligible to run as its representative.

“The local board of elections is entitled to deference in interpretation of its charter,’’ Cypher wrote. “There is no dispute that Yeo fully intended to be domiciled in Ward 2.’’

Harrington has dismissed criticism that the case was mean-spirited or politically motivated.

Both sides have said they hope to have the matter resolved before the fast-approaching Nov. 8 election. The short time frame has raised the possibility of extended legal proceedings that could retroactively alter the results of the election.

Last year, Yeo sold his longtime Auburndale residence in Ward 4 to nearby Lasell College, according to court documents. In November, 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 court documents.

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

On Oct. 6, Leibensperger overturned the Election Commission’s decision, saying Yeo was still a resident of Ward 4 when the residency requirement applied, and the commission’s error “negatively affected the material rights of the voters of Newton because it allowed the inclusion of an ineligible candidate.’’

However, Cypher vacated the ruling last Thursday, and ordered the matter sent back to Superior Court, “which is to enter an order consistent with this decision.’’

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