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No Ruling from Judge Yet on Legality of 2005 County Budget

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – A State Supreme Court Justice will not render a decision Thursday on the legality of the 2005 Erie County budget. Justice John Lane is deciding whether or not the budget process was valid. That issue was argued once again in court Wednesday.

Budget amendments were approved as a whole package and not line-by-line on December 8th. It was one of the issues argued yesterday in court. Republican County Election Commissioner Ralph Mohr argued the case in one of three lawsuits filed against the Giambra Administration. He says according to rules of the county charter, the more than 300 pages of amendments should have been voted on separately.

Mohr filed suit with the Democratic Elections Commissioner, Republican Legislator Denise Marshal and Comptroller Nancy Naples.

"I don't think we can flaunt the rules," Naples said. "The process was flaunted and was not followed properly."

But the attorney for the Giambra Administration, Ken Africano, says those amendments were legal and don't require a line-by-line vote.

"It doesn't require you go through all 340 pages," Africano said. "Each page has ten different items on it. It doesn't require (that legislators) go item by item. That is our position. It would be extremely impractical."

Marshall says she never had a chance to review the amendments before a rushed budget vote.

"That has never been done in the past. It wasn't even presented that way the night of the budget. It was stated that the amendments would be looked at as a package," Marshall said. "So the word amendment was used, but the past precedent was never to vote on one package."

Democratic lawmaker, Al DeBenedetti, appeared at Wednesday's court hearing. But he didn't agree with the court arguments regarding the amendments.

"I had to contain myself from laughing out loud in court. I did not want to offend the judge," DeBenedetti said. "I thought the arguments were ludicrous."

But DeBenedetti says he is confident the judge will allow for an orderly transition for proper approval of the budget amendments.