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03/17/98 RHONDA S. NORTH v. DARLENE HINKLE

RHONDA S. NORTH, CARL J. MCCAFFREY, AND CHRISTOPHER A. JACOBS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
DARLENE HINKLE, AS CITY CLERK FOR THE CITY OF AMBOY AND AS LOCAL ELECTION OFFICIAL, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lee County. No. 97--MR--0004 Honorable Tomas M. Magdich, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Doyle

Plaintiffs, Rhonda S. North, Carl J. McCaffrey, and Christopher A. Jacobs, sought a writ of mandamus to compel defendant, Darlene Hinkle, as the city clerk of the City of Amboy, to certify plaintiffs' names for placement on the ballot for Amboy's April 7, 1997, municipal election. The trial court denied plaintiffs' request, and plaintiffs appealed. We affirm.

I. FACTS

The facts of this case are not in dispute. The plaintiffs sought to have their names placed on the ballot for the City of Amboy's April 7, 1997, municipal election. Plaintiff Rhonda S. North was running for city clerk, and plaintiffs Carl J. McCaffrey and Christopher A. Jacobs were running for seats as aldermen. On the last day for the filing of nominating papers, each of the plaintiffs filed with defendant a "nonpartisan petition for nomination" and a "statement of economic interest." However, none of the plaintiffs filed a "statement of candidacy." Shortly thereafter, defendant certified the names for the April 7, 1997, ballot and did not include any of the plaintiffs' names in that certification.

Plaintiffs then filed a complaint for mandamus to compel defendant to certify their names for the ballot. Plaintiffs argued that defendant lacked the authority to withhold plaintiffs' names from the ballot. In support, plaintiffs cited section 10--15 of the Election Code (the Code) (10 ILCS 5/10--15 (West 1996)). Under this section, plaintiffs argued, defendant can withhold a candidate's name from the ballot only if an objection to that candidate's nominating papers has been properly filed. Because no objections were filed against plaintiffs' papers, defendant was legally obligated to certify their names for the ballot.

In response, defendant argued that, under section 10--8 of the Code (10 ILCS 5/10--8 (West 1996)), she has a duty to determine whether a candidate's nominating papers are in apparent conformity with the Code when filed. If they are, defendant may withhold that candidate's name from the ballot only if an objection has been filed. However, if the papers do not apparently conform to the Code, defendant is under no obligation to certify that candidate's name for the ballot. Defendant contends that this is critical because, although section 10--5 of the Code (10 ILCS 5/10--5 (West 1996)) states that all nominating papers must include a statement of candidacy, plaintiffs did not file statements of candidacy. Therefore, plaintiffs' nominating papers were not "in apparent conformity" with the Code and defendant was under no obligation to certify their names for the ballot.

The trial court agreed with defendant. In its memorandum order, the trial court explained that, because plaintiffs neglected to file statements of candidacy, their nominating papers were not "in apparent conformity" with the Code. Absent apparent conformity, defendant was under no obligation to certify plaintiffs' names for the ballot. The trial court therefore denied plaintiffs' request for a writ of mandamus. This timely appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Mootness

At the outset, we note that the April 7, 1997, election already has occurred and that all of the offices sought by plaintiffs in that election have been filled. Nevertheless, we will not treat this cause as moot.

One exception to the mootness doctrine allows a court to resolve an otherwise moot issue if the issue involves a substantial public interest. Bonaguro v. County Officers Electoral Board, 158 Ill. 2d 391, 395 (1994). The criteria for the application of the public interest exception are (1) the public nature of the question, (2) the desirability of an authoritative determination for the purpose of guiding public officers, and (3) the likelihood that the question will recur. Bonaguro, 158 Ill. 2d at 395.

In this case, we are satisfied that the public interest criteria have been met. The procedures for certifying candidates for election to public office are doubtless of substantial public interest. In addition, the Illinois courts have not directly addressed the issue presented by this case in more than 80 years. Finally, we are convinced that the facts of this case are not unusual and are likely to recur. Accordingly, we will address the merits of this appeal. See Bonaguro, 158 Ill. 2d at 395-96.

B. Certification of Candidates

The issue presented in this case is whether the trial court properly concluded that, under section 10--8 of the Code, defendant possessed the authority to determine whether plaintiffs' nominating papers apparently conformed to the Code's requirements. The construction of a statute is a question of law, and ...


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