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Lally drops suit over Labate’s petition signatures

Congressional candidates Stephen Labate (l.) and Grant Lally (r.) faced off in court this week over signatures gathered on campaign petitions.
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A lawsuit alleging that congressional candidate Stephen Labate gathered forged and fraudulent signatures on his campaign petitions was withdrawn this week after an attorney representing his opponent, Grant Lally, moved to dismiss the case in the middle of a court hearing, less than three weeks after Lally filed the suit.

Lawyers for the two Republican candidates challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) for his seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional District faced off in Nassau County Supreme Court Monday after Lally filed papers April 24 in objection to several signatures obtained on Labate’s petitions.

The suit alleged that some signatures were forgeries and claimed that others were obtained from voters not registered with the Republican Party, which petitioning rules require.

The 3rd Congressional District covers parts of Nassau County in addition to the Queens neighborhoods of Little Neck, Whitestone and Douglaston.

About two hours into the hearing, John Ciampoli, the attorney representing Lally’s campaign, made a motion to withdraw the lawsuit and was granted his request by Judge Dana Winslow. He later said in a statement that the campaign chose to dismiss the case due to “the failure of certain witnesses to appear in court,” but did not say who the witnesses were.

Lally did not attend the hearing, which a member of his campaign staff said was because he was not called as a witness and he did not feel the need to appear.

Thomas Ognibene, a Queens Republican who represents the Labate campaign, said after court Monday that he was happy to see the suit dismissed and maintained that all of Labate’s petition signatures were in line with county Board of Elections regulations.

“They were barking up the wrong tree,” Ognibene said of the Lally campaign on filing the lawsuit. “We’ll let them fight it out in the primary.”

The biggest complaint Lally had against his opponent was vested in a family from Bellmore, L.I., whose 19-year-old daughter, Lisa Maneggio, volunteered to help gather signatures for Labate’s petitions. Lally’s suit alleged that Maneggio’s signature, which appeared three times on the document, was forged because it did not look the same on each page.

The Maneggio family recently filed a complaint with the Nassau County Police Department alleging that a man they believe to be Lally stalked and harassed them at their home last month about the signatures on the petition, which Lally denies being involved in and later said the family filed a false police report.

After Ciampoli elected not to call Maneggio to the stand to testify, Winslow issued his ruling, stating that he did not believe her signatures were forged and dismissed the complaint against Maneggio.

“If it looks different, it doesn’t mean in and of itself that it’s a forgery,” Winslow said. “A person can sign something slowly, rapidly, carefully or thoughtfully and the results of them may be different.”

Winslow noted that there were no perceptible differences in Maneggio’s signatures on two of the petition pages, saying they had significant characteristics in common with a voter registration packet obtained from the county Board of Elections that showed her signature.

The third signature, he said, showed a minor difference in how the last name was signed, but Winslow said he believed all three signatures were made by Maneggio.

After the complaint involving Maneggio was dismissed, Ciampoli called Labate to the stand and questioned him briefly on how he guaranteed that the residents he asked to sign his petition were registered members of the Republican Party.

Labate said he obtained addresses from the county Board of Elections and visited only the houses of voters who were registered with the party, also saying he asked them to verify their party status before signing his petition.

While questioning Labate, Ciampoli requested a five-minute recess and upon returning to the courtroom he asked to withdraw the suit.

After the suit was dismissed, Robert Nori, Lally’s campaign manager, released a statement in which he called Labate a “hopeless candidate” and referred to him as “nothing more than a speed bump on the way to victory against Steve Israel.”

Following the hearing, Labate said he was pleased it was over and would now look ahead to focusing his campaign on issues important to voters.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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