Dominik Lay Wins 3 Times in Court, Gets Sworn in as School Committee; City of Lowell Appeal Continues…

City Clerk Michael Geary Sears in Domink Lay to fill in School Committee vacancy at Lowell City on Tuesday May 12, 2021

Lowell, MA — A Cambodian American named Dominik Lay was sworn in as a school committee member to fill a vacancy after winning several legal challenges Lay vs. City of Lowell & Others. The position became vacant in February, after school committee member Robert Hoey used a “racial slur” language on a local cable television. He was asked to immediately resign by Lowell Mayor John Leahy and all local elected officials also demanded that he resign including Congresswoman Lori Trahan, State Senator Edward Kennedy, State Representatives Tom Golden, Vanna Howard and Rady Mom. Lay said it was unclear at the beginning because no one reached out to him that as the 7th place vote receiver, by default, he will be filling in the vacancy. He inquired with the city and was later confirmed by the city solicitor Christine P. O’Connor that he will be the next school committee member. However, the city solicitor said she doesn’t believe Lay is a Lowell resident and that he needs to appeal at the election commission.

At the Lowell Election Commission which is responsible to certify that Lay can proceed, one member, James Pope, voted against Lay, claiming he was not a resident of Lowell. Chairperson Zoe Dzineku and another member Beverly Anthes abstained from voting. With one vote, the commission decided that Lay was not eligible to serve. Attorney Roland L. Milliard, who represented Lay was present and yelled “the process wasn’t fair. With one vote, without a quorum, they decided,” according to Lay. The city then planned to swear in Ben Opara, the next-highest vote getter in the 2019 election. Lay filed a complaint with Middlesex Superior Court against the City of Lowell and the Lowell Election Commission seeking an injunction not to appoint anyone else to the post until there is a hearing on his case, citing that “the commission robbed his opportunity to defend himself and the process was unfair.” At the hearing, Judge William M. White Jr. ruled in Lay’s favor stating that “viewing the facts and circumstances as a whole, it is clear to this court that Lay’s domicile is in Lowell. Accordingly, Lay is eligible to fill the vacancy on the committee” stated the court memorandum and decision letter dated March 24, 2021.

Lay’s lawyer, Ronald L. Millard wrote to the City Clerk Michael Geary urging him to swear in Lay on April 8, however, the city filed an appeal so Lay was not sworn in. In a second ruling, Judge Camille F. Sarrouf ruled in Lay’s favor on May 6, yet Lay was still not sworn in, because the city solicitor appealed again. The 3rd Lowell Superior Court Judge J. Henry ruled on May 12 again and for the third time in Lay’s favor. Judge Henry’s judgement was “after careful review of the City’s motion, the accompanying materials and a review of the papers filed in the Superior Court, I conclude that the City is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal. Moreover, the balance of harms, including that of the significant public interest at issue in maintaining the will of the City’s voters, weighs against entering a stay pending appeal of the Superior Court judgment. Accordingly, the City’s request for a stay pending appeal is denied.”

Lay signs in as School Committee after being sworn in by City Clerk Michael Geary.

Lay was finally sworn in on May 12th, the same day as Judge Henry’s ruling, after a group of Cambodian American community members showed up to support Lay at city hall and were ready to demonstrate if Lay was not sworn in by city Clerk Michael Geary.

The question in everyone’s mind is why this is happening? “Lay said there are people who don’t like me because of the way I vote.” In his role as school committee he votes on budget spending for public schools and most recently, give evaluations of the superintendent which had created some heated debates on the chamber floor.

A Lowell Sun article, the day after Lay’s first victory in March, cited that Ben Opara would support the city’s legal challenge should the city decide to appeal. Khmer Post USA spoke with Ben Opara on June 30, Ben said he is not aware why the city is continuing to pursue this case. He said the judge has ruled, and everybody should move on. He has pulled the paper to run for the election in the fall in a different district than Lay. Hence, they are not competitors. Lay has also pulled his paper and will run for district #4 which includes Acre & Lower Highland. Jackie Dorothy, another current school committee member also pulled the nomination paper but has yet to declare whether she will be running for district or an at-large seat.

Lowell election this year can be confusing to many but is already picking up steam from every corner of the city. At least two candidates have declared their candidacy for each council seat. Some long term councilors who served at-large for the last 20 years are now facing the decision to run district or at-large. Some councilors will have to retire because there are 5 current councilors from one Belvedere district.

This change is happening as a result of a legal challenge by Hout et all vs. City of Lowell in 2017, claiming the city-wide election system violated their civil rights to elect their own leaders. The settlement resulted in Lowell being divided into 8 district seats and 3 at-large seats. It also changes the school committee landscape into 4 district school committee and two at-large school committee seats. Lay had served as school committee member for one term from 2018 – 2019.

Khmer Post USA will produce another report on who’s running in which district for city council and for school committee this fall.