Update: Goow Prevails in Bid To Oust Akhtaruzzaman; Fate of City Council Seat Uncertain
Wednesday, September 12, 2012 • 2:08pm
PATERSON, NJ – Aslon Goow has triumphed in his legal challenge to have Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman removed from his seat on the Paterson City Council.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Brogan ruled in Goow’s favor on Wednesday afternoon, annuling Akhtaruzzaman's victory in the May election. The judge saod that Akhtaruzzaman was ineligible to run for office because his voter registration for Paterson was invalid because he listed the wrong Carlisle Avenue address on the form.
With Akhtaruzzaman's removal, the 2nd Ward seat on the City Council is vacant. Goow's lawyer, Michael DeMarco, said the City Clerk would have to decide when to hold a special election to fill the seat. The earliest that election could be held would be May 2013 and the latest would be November 2013, DeMarco said. There's not enough time for the council seat to be put on the upcoming November 2012 ballot, he said.
In the meantime, DeMarco said, the city council could appoint someone to fill the seat. Goow would be eligible for that appointment, but Akhtaruzzaman would not, DeMarco said.
A jubilant Goow said he hoped the council members would put him back in the seat he had held for the past 12 years. Moreover, he said he's ready to run whenever the special election is held.
"We knew common sense was going to prevail,'' Goow said. "That's what we had - common sense. The facts were clear.''
"I'm looking forward to getting back on that council very soon,'' he added.
Akhtaruzzaman, meanwhile, was subdued after the ruling. He said he planned to file an appeal. "I'm surprised,'' he said while walking out of the crowded courtroom. Akhtaruzzaman was the first Bengali elected to public office in North Jersey, winning the May election by almost 500 votes in an outcome that stunned city political insiders.
Akhtaruzzaman had lived in Paterson for many years, but moved to Totowa several years ago. He returned to Paterson in 2011 and registered to vote in the city in March 2011.
At the time, Akhtaruzzaman listed his address as 122 Carlisle Avenue. But he testified during the trial that he was living at 109 Carlisle Avenue in March 2011 and would not move to 122 Carlisle until July. Akhtaruzzaman said he put 122 Carlisle on the voter form because he planned to eventually move there.
But Brogan said the inaccurate address rendered Akhtaruzzaman's registration invalid.
Goow's initial lawsuit sought to remove Akhtaruzzaman on the grounds that he failed to fulfill residency requirements for running for the 2nd Ward seat. The voter registration issue was added to the lawsuit as the trial progressed.
Brogan said in issuing his ruling that there was compelling evidence presented by both sides on whether Akhtaruzzaman lived in Paterson a year before the May 8, 2012 election. Brogan cited testimony by Akhtaruzzaman's sister-in-law, by his campaign manager and his campaign treasurer supporting Akhtaruzzaman's assertion that he lived in Paterson months's before the residency deadline.
But the judge said he was troubled some of the documents that Akhtaruzzaman filled out that said he lived in Totowa subsequent to the May 2011 residency cut-off date. Among them were his daughter's school registration form in Totowa, where she attended classed until March 2012, and a flood emergency food stamp application he filled out in September 2011. Akhtaruzzaman had described the inconsistencies as mistakes.
Brogan said he had referred some of those documents to the Passaic County Prosecutors' Office. The judge said he wasn't sure they resulted from mistakes, intentional misrepresentations, or criminal actions.
"That determination is not relevant to the determination made by this court,'' Brogan said.
Several dozen members of the Bengali community packed the courtroom, most of them in support of Akhtaruzzaman. But some were there for Goow.
Aziz Rahmin, Akhtaruzzaman's treasurer, said he still support the ousted official because the inconsistencies on the documents stemmed from "mistakes" and not "bad intentions.'' Rahmin said he would back Akhtaruzzaman in a special election for the 2nd Ward seat. But when asked whether the Bengali community would consider running someone else against against Goow, he said, "We have to talk.''