Things keep getting stranger.

The Niagara County Judge assigned to hear the lawsuit filed against The Public Finance Reform Commission has suddenly recused himself. Justice Richard Kloch stepped aside after being asked by attorney’s representing Carl Heastie and the Democratic State Assembly, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the Democratic State Senate, and James McGuire who represents the Commission itself. McGuire is the lead attorney for the Commission after a 7 to 2 vote by the Commissioners this past August. McGuire is also the former Chief Counsel to Republican Governor George Pataki.

The suit is being brought by the Working Families Party and the Conservative Party on the grounds that the Commission does not have the authority to eliminate fusion voting, something it was empowered to do when it was created. It’s main charge is to make recommendations on how to implement a statewide system of publicly funded campaigns. The WFP claims the Commission, created by the legislative leaders and the Governor in March, cannot eliminate fusion voting on constitutional grounds. The Conservative Party argues the Commission was not granted enough legal power to make the change.

Sources with knowledge say Justice Kloch was asked to step aside because he had made comments indicating he supports leaving fusion voting in tact, and thus had a bias in the case. Either the judge agreed with that assertion and agreed to give up his role in the case, or chose not to fight such accusations. Either way, it’s unusual for a judge to take that step. One clue might be that Kloch’s wife, Eloise, served as Chair of Niagara County’s Independence Party until 2004. The Independence Party is yet another third party in New York State which stakes its survival on fusion voting.

Reached by phone, Craig Bucki, the attorney for the State Assembly said that he signed the letter asking for Kloch’s removal. Pressed for more detail, he offered to email a copy of the letter, then seemed to realize I was a reporter, and suddenly stopped cooperating. He withdrew his offer to provide the letter and referred me to the Assembly Communications team. Heastie’s spokesperson Mike Whyland did not return calls or texts seeking comment.

According to a source, asking for the recusal was an attempt by McGuire and others to get the case reassigned to another district, or delay the schedule. Some believe Niagara County was strategically chosen as the area to file suit because the plaintiffs would end up with a judge who was sympathetic to preserving fusion. Apparently that worked initially, although now that judge is gone and a new Niagara County Judge, Ralph Boniello has replaced him. The original schedule will also remain intact, with an expected ruling by November 12th, three weeks before the Commission is set to present it’s findings to the legislature and the Governor.

Tomorrow the Commission is set to file paperwork answering the initial complaint.

Looking at all of these developments in their totality, one insider described the Commission  and all that has unfolded as “a complete and total disaster.”