Siegel v. Lake Cty Officers Electoral Bd., 2-08-0626.

Citation895 N.E.2d 69
Decision Date09 September 2008
Docket NumberNo. 2-08-0626.,2-08-0626.
PartiesDavita SIEGEL, Petitioner-Appellee, v. LAKE COUNTY OFFICERS ELECTORAL BOARD; Willard R. Helander, Margaret A. Marcouiller, and Sally D. Coffelt, as Members of the Lake County Officers Electoral Board; and Michael J. Waller, as Lake County State's Attorney, Respondents. (Eric Burgess, Donald R. Castella, and Joel A. Finfer, Respondents-Appellants).
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

John G. Fogarty, Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C., Attorneys At Law, Chicago, IL, for Appellant.

Christopher M. Kennedy, Kennedy, Pierson & Strachan, LLP, Lake Forest, Carla N. Wyckoff, Assistant State's Attorney, Waukegan, IL, for Appellee.

Justice HUTCHINSON delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondents Eric Burgess, Donald R. Castella, and Joel A. Finfer appeal the trial court's order reversing the decision of the Lake County Officers Electoral Board (the Board) to exclude petitioner, Davita Siegel, from the November 2008 general election ballot as the Democratic candidate for member of the Lake County Board. On appeal, respondents assert that the Board correctly excluded petitioner from the ballot and contend that (1) the trial court erred when it determined that respondents waived their argument that the District Committee meeting took place on a date other than that set forth in the resolution to fill the vacancy in nomination, and (2) the trial court erred when it determined that the placement of an incorrect date on the resolution was a de minimis error and constituted substantial compliance with a mandatory requirement of section 7 — 61 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/7 — 61 (West 2006)). We affirm.

The underlying facts reflect that no candidate appeared on the February 2008 Democratic primary ballot for the office of member of the Lake County Board, District 20, and a vacancy in nomination therefore existed. The last day to fill the vacancy in nomination was April 7, 2008, and, on that date, petitioner filed her "Statement of Candidacy for District 20" as well as a "Resolution to Fill a Vacancy in Nomination" (the resolution) with the Lake County clerk's office. The resolution was executed by the "County Board Committee for the Democratic Party for the 20th District" (the District Committee). The resolution bore the signatures of Philip Hirsh, as the District Committee chairman, and Ivan Phillips, as the District Committee secretary, and stated that the District Committee met on April 6, 2008, and appointed petitioner to fill the vacancy at that time. The resolution was prepared and notarized by Nancy Shepherdson, and the jurat stated that the notarization occurred on April 6, 2008. Shepherdson also notarized petitioner's statement of candidacy, with that document also bearing the date of April 6, 2008.

Respondents filed a verified objectors' petition, claiming that the District Committee meeting (1) was never properly assembled, and (2) never occurred at all. In response, petitioner filed a motion to strike and dismiss respondents' objection, alleging that the District Committee had properly assembled, notice had been provided, and she was properly nominated as the candidate. In support of her motion, petitioner attached the affidavit of Nancy Shepherdson. In her affidavit, Shepherdson averred that the meeting of the District Committee took place on April 5, 2008. Shepherdson averred that she was present at the meeting and prepared the nominating papers. Shepherdson averred that she witnessed and notarized the District Committee members' signatures and petitioner's signature. Shepherdson also averred that she mistakenly wrote the wrong date in the resolution and the statement of candidacy jurats when she completed the forms.

Respondents thereafter filed a response to petitioner's motion to strike and dismiss, in which they raised a specific objection to the facial validity of the resolution. In their response, respondents alleged that the resolution did not reflect the true date of the meeting. Petitioner filed a reply, objecting to respondents' response. Petitioner argued that respondents improperly amended their objectors' petition in violation of section 10-8 of the Election Code (10 ILCS 5/10 — 8 (West 2006)) because their specific objection to the date was not included in their objectors' petition and the time to add objections had expired. Petitioner alternatively argued that, even if the Board considered respondents' new objection, the resolution still substantially complied with the technical requirements of the Election Code. Petitioner maintained that affixing an incorrect date to the resolution was a technical defect, i.e., a scrivener's error, and was not an indicium of dishonesty.

At the hearing before the Board, one of the Board members described Shepherdson's entry of the incorrect date on the resolution as a "good faith error," and the other Board members described the entry as a scrivener's error. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board determined, with one member dissenting, that respondents did not waive their objection to the sufficiency of the papers for petitioner's failure to include the true date of her nomination. The Board found that the nature of respondents' objection pertained to the manner of petitioner's selection by the District Committee and was, therefore, broad enough to encompass not only the objection that no meeting ever occurred but also the objection that no meeting occurred on the date specified in the resolution.

The Board found that the District Committee was duly constituted, had met, and had selected petitioner to fill the Democratic vacancy in nomination for the office of county board member on April 5, 2008. The Board also found that the District Committee members signed the resolution on April 5, 2008, and that petitioner attended the selection meeting and signed her statement of candidacy on April 5, 2008. The Board found that the resolution incorrectly averred that the selection meeting occurred on April 6, 2008. The Board found that Shepherdson, in her affidavit attached to petitioner's motion to strike and dismiss, acknowledged that she incorrectly wrote the date of April 6, 2008, in the jurats on the resolution and the statement of candidacy. The Board found that the correct date of the District Committee meeting, April 5, 2008, was not identified anywhere in petitioner's nominating papers.

The Board further found that the statutory provisions for filling a vacancy in nomination were mandatory and that petitioner's nominating papers did not disclose the true date of her selection to fill the vacancy in nomination. The Board found that it was duty-bound to enforce the mandatory provisions of the Election Code even where no evidence of bad-faith noncompliance was presented. The Board sustained respondents' objection and ordered that petitioner's name not appear on the November 2008 general election ballot.

Petitioner filed an action in the trial court for judicial review of the Board's decision, and the trial court reversed. The trial court determined that respondents had waived their objection that the resolution did not reflect the true date of the meeting. The trial court further determined that the placement of an incorrect date on the resolution was a de minimis error and constituted substantial compliance with the Election Code. The trial court thus ordered petitioner's name to appear on the November 2008 general election ballot. Respondents timely appealed, and we expedited this appeal on our own motion pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 311 (155 Ill.2d R. 311).

We are required to review the Board's decision rather than the trial court's decision. See Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 212, 319 Ill.Dec. 887, 886 N.E.2d 1011 (2008); see also Bergman v. Vachata, 347 Ill.App.3d 339, 344, 282 Ill.Dec. 934, 807 N.E.2d 558 (2004), citing Lockhart v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, 328 Ill.App.3d 838, 841, 262 Ill. Dec. 968, 767 N.E.2d 428 (2002). We view an electoral board as an administrative agency (Cinkus, 228 Ill.2d at 209, 319 Ill. Dec. 887, 886 N.E.2d 1011), and the standards of review are essentially identical (Cullerton v. Du Page County Officers Electoral Board, No. 323 Ill.Dec. 748, 894 N.E.2d 774 (2008)). An electoral board's findings of fact are deemed prima facie true and correct and will not be overturned on appeal unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Cullerton, at 749, 894 N.E.2d 774, citing Cinkus, 228 Ill.2d at 210, 319 Ill.Dec. 887, 886 N.E.2d 1011. However, an electoral board's decisions on questions of law are not binding on a reviewing court, and a reviewing court will review de novo such questions. Cullerton, at 749-50, 894 N.E.2d 774, citing Cinkus, 228 Ill.2d at 210-11, 319 Ill.Dec. 887, 886 N.E.2d 1011. An electoral board's rulings on mixed questions of law and fact — questions on which the historical facts are admitted, the rule of law is undisputed, and the only remaining issue is whether the facts satisfy a statutory standard—will not be disturbed on review unless clearly erroneous. Cullerton, at 750, 894 N.E.2d 774, citing Cinkus, 228 Ill.2d at 211, 319 Ill.Dec. 887, 886 N.E.2d 1011.

Respondents contend first that the trial court erred when it found that they had waived their argument that the District Committee meeting took place on a date other than that set forth on the resolution to fill the vacancy in nomination. Respondents argue that their objection challenging the existence of an actual meeting was sufficient to encompass their specific objection that the meeting took place on a date other than that set forth in the resolution. Alternatively, respondents argue that, once the Board heard evidence that the meeting did not occur on the date noted in the nominating papers, the Board was compelled to rule on that evidence and find the nomination to be invalid.

The Board is...

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