Gov. David Paterson says his new lieutenant governor won't immediately preside over a special Senate session because pending legal action has muddied the situation.
An appellate judge has overruled a decision barring former Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Richard Ravitch from taking over as lieutenant governor. Republicans wanted the order to prevent the Democratic governor from having Ravitch provide a tie-breaking vote in the deadlocked chamber.
Thursday's ruling by state Supreme Court Associate Justice Leonard Austin in Nassau County overturns a restraining order that
Republicans had obtained earlier Thursday.
Paterson said he's taking the dispute to a state appeals court in Albany on Thursday. In the meantime, he said he will not
"try to flaunt" the appointment while the legal process is underway.
Appointing Ravitch was supposed to help resolve a monthlong gridlock in the Senate that started when a mostly Republican faction tried to take power from the shaky Democratic majority in a June 8 coup.
A former chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority respected by Democrats and Republicans, Ravitch said he was sworn in at 8 p.m. Wednesday, hours after Paterson made the surprise appointment long thought to be constitutionally prohibited.
The temporary restraining order shows it was granted at 12:23 a.m. Thursday, the end of a busy night of lawyering by both sides. The order was sought by Democratic Sen. Pedro Espada of the Bronx and Republican Sen. Dean Skelos of Nassau County, the leaders of the Republican-dominated faction claiming control of the Senate. It was filed against Paterson, Ravitch and the state secretary of state, who accepts oaths of office.
The order describes the case as a "constitutional crisis" and accuses Paterson of a "blatant violation" of the constitution.
Paterson warned reporters not to be "duped" by claims that the warring Senate factions are close to a deal.
"It's stealth justice," said Democratic Senate spokesman Austin Shafran of the midnight court order. "I think the entire process that the Republicans are taking this through is shameful. Justice is supposed to be blind, so you really don't need to sneak around under the cloak of darkness."
The Senate has been gridlocked since a June 8 coup by a Republican-dominated coalition over the Democratic conference that thought it won the majority.
The court order is to be argued Friday, but other legal action could intervene Thursday.
The coalition had immediately slammed Paterson's appointment of the 76-year-old Democrat known for crisis management as a political move to boost his weak poll numbers as he campaigns for election in 2010. Paterson's televised speech was promoted through his campaign Wednesday and automated "robo calls" were made Wednesday night by the campaign praising the Democratic governor's action.
Ravitch said today that he will be "addressing serious problems that the state faces and I am not now and I will never be a candidate for elected office."
Ravitch recently championed a transit bailout plan. He was chosen by then-Gov. Hugh Carey to help dig New York out of its 1974 fiscal crisis. He also worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 and was part of the National Commission on Urban Problems.