A judge ruled yesterday that Jersey City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez can keep her seat, but Lopez faces one more legal challenge to her residency status by former council candidate Norrice Raymaker.
Raymaker, who just yesterday received Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli's Friday ruling that Lopez is a Jersey City resident despite owning a home in Orlando, Fla. and only paying taxes there, plans to appeal the decision based on the allegation that Lopez did not abandon her Florida domicile one year before she was elected.
"We raised a crucial issue: in order for her to claim under the law Jersey City as her domicile, she needed to prove that she abandoned Florida as her former Domicile," said Raymaker. "[Gallipoli] just ignored it. He didn't rule on it. We think on that basis, she can't embrace Jersey City as her domicile."
The case against Lopez has dragged on for nearly six months.
Almost two months after Lopez was elected to the city's Ward C council seat, unsuccessful candidate Jimmy King, who finished second behind Lopez in the May municipal election, touched off the suit with evidence collected in part by a private investigator in Florida. But King was arrested in July on corruption charges and eventually dropped the case, leaving Raymaker, a good government reform activist who finished third in the May election, to pursue it.
Among King's initial allegations was that Lopez claimed a tax exemption on her Orlando home only meant for permanent Florida residents. Lopez admitted that continuing to claim the exemption was a mistake and is paying the state of Florida over $30,000 in back taxes and penalties.
Although he ruled in Lopez's favor, the wording of Gallipolis's decision did raise some eyebrows.
"While the many things Lopez did or failed to do […] are inexplicable and may implicate possible violations of civil and/or criminal law here and/or in Florida, they are ‘things' that are done unfortunately, day in and day out, by any number of people for any number of reasons, running the gamut from the dumb to the negligent to the criminal, regardless of residence," he wrote.
Jeffrey said that if her request to proceed on an emergent basis is granted – which she expects — then the case should be decided within the next two weeks. Otherwise, it will move at the usual "snail's pace."
Lopez's attorney, William Northgrave, said he's confident that they will overcome any appeal.
"Factually and legally, it had always been clear that Councilwoman Lopez lived in Jersey City. We are happy that Judge Gallipoli, in a strong, well reasoned opinion, sustained Ms. Lopez and the people who voted her into office on the first ballot," he said. "Councilwoman Lopez can now continue serving her constituents without this unnecessary and warranted distraction."
Northgrave argued that Raymaker was grasping at straws in her appeal.
"What they tell you in law school is if the fact is on the facts you pound the fact, if the law is on your side you pound the law, and if neither are on your side you pound the table," he said.