A High Court attempt to oust newly elected Northern regional councillors has been aborted at the last minute with failed candidate and former chairman Bill Shepherd withdrawing a legal challenge.
The withdrawn challenge could set Northland on a path for greater regulation of genetic modification - a key issue ahead of the election last month.
The High Court at Whangarei confirmed Shepherd had filed papers seeking a judicial review of the Northland Regional Council election result for the Coastal North constituency, and had then withdrawn the case yesterday morning.
The papers were filed about a week after the results showed he wasn't going to make it back to council.
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Shepherd missed out on returning by only 38 votes, winning 5641 votes against fellow incumbent Jocelyn Yeoman's 5678 votes.
But both Yeoman and new councillor Marty Robinson were in Shepherd's sights through the legal challenge, which sought a recount and to test whether the technical aspects of the electoral process were followed.
Shepherd has not responded to requests for comment from the Advocate.
Robinson said he received an email from Shepherd yesterday telling him the legal challenge had been cancelled.
He said he had been surprised Shepherd had filed the case but considered the legal challenge a reflection of how invested councillors became were in the tasks for which they were elected.
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"If you're really determined and want to get back in a position, you'll try anything."
For Shepherd, who had served as chairman in his most recent term, the failure at the polls would have been particularly difficult, he said.
"That's a real turnaround from hero to zero."
Robinson, a farmer in Kerikeri, said the legal challenge targeted the narrow gap in votes between Shepherd and Yeoman.
It also challenged the technical validity of the candidacies of those who beat Shepherd, he said.
"It was a shotgun approach (asking) what did I do wrong? I may not have paid $200 (to register)... May not be a New Zealand citizen… May not have got it in on time.
"He obviously loved it. It was his day but it's now up to me to pick up that baton."
Robinson said he believed voters were driven by the outgoing council's decision on rules for genetic modification. He said its last session saw council vote down local regulation with Shepherd holding the casting vote.
In contrast, Robinson was a decades-long member of GE Free Northland and had campaigned on that basis.
He said he believed national GM rules were not enough and Northland needed its own regulations.
Yeoman said she had also been told by Shepherd the case been withdrawn. "I'm pleased to be able to carry on in the role I've been re-elected to do."
Regional council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said his focus had been on ensuring the correct democratic processes were followed. All new councillors had been sworn in, he said.