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They Challenged New Jersey’s Political Leaders — and They’re Succeeding

Yael Bromberg (Credits: Jersey City Times)

When the legal showdown over New Jersey’s county-line ballots convened in a federal courtroom in Newark this past March, the balance of power was evident.

On one side stood a formidable array of attorneys representing the county clerks and Camden County’s Democratic Party. Their sheer numbers necessitated seating some of them in the jury box. Meanwhile, in the audience and behind the scenes, additional legal minds were at work, bolstering their defense.

Facing this formidable opposition were just three individuals: Yael Bromberg, Flavio Komuves, and Brett Pugach. “The other side had 100 attorneys,” Bromberg remarked. “And here we are, just the three of us.”

Brett Pugach (Credits:: New Jersey Globe)

Despite being outnumbered, Bromberg, Komuves, and Pugach emerged victorious not once but twice in their legal battle against New Jersey’s county-line ballots.

First, they secured an important win at the district court level, persuading the court to invalidate the county-line ballots for the June Democratic primaries. Then, just 20 days later, a panel of federal appeals court judges affirmed their victory.

This wasn’t Just a Story of David Versus Goliath

Yet, their adversaries weren’t limited to the county clerks and their formidable legal team. Behind the scenes, the state’s political power players worked to preserve the county line.

This wasn’t merely a tale of David versus Goliath; it was, as Albert Finney’s character in “Erin Brockovich” might put it, a story of David against Goliath’s “whole f***ing family.” “The strength of this team is incredible,” Komuves remarked.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Bromberg, Komuves, and Pugach at their office in Somerset. There, we discussed their journey to becoming champions within New Jersey’s progressive community.

All three attorneys received their legal education in the Garden State. Komuves attended Seton Hall Law, while Bromberg and Pugach were classmates at Rutgers Law.

Komuves has held positions in the government and served as deputy public advocate under Governor Jon Corzine. Bromberg’s background includes work at Common Cause and teaching at Georgetown University Law Center’s Civil Rights Clinic and Voting Rights Institute.

Pugach has represented progressive candidates and served as general counsel for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Jersey in 2016. Additionally, he authored a paper for the Rutgers University Law Review in 2020, shedding light on the issue of ballot positioning in New Jersey.

Before their efforts, discussing the county-line issue was taboo in New Jersey’s political circles. Pugach emphasized, “You weren’t allowed to talk about this.”

“We created a space where it’s okay to challenge the system,” he added.

New Jersey’s party bosses (Credits: New Jersey Monitor)

Their legal challenges drew heavily from Pugach’s paper, laying the groundwork for their successful lawsuits targeting the county line. Representing plaintiffs like congressional candidate Christine Conforti and later Rep. Andy Kim, they argued that the county line unduly influenced election outcomes.

Their case was bolstered by expert testimony, including insights from political science professor Josh Pasek, whose research demonstrated the county line’s impact on election results.

Their victories have dealt a remarkable blow to the county-line system. Although the legal battle continues, Bromberg expressed confidence that the county line will eventually be abolished, thanks to heightened public awareness of its inherent unfairness.

“Now that awareness exists, how can we ensure public confidence in our elections without fair and equitable ballot designs?” Bromberg asked.

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