The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gordon
Not Released For Publication
EMANUEL CHRISTOPHER WELCH, LEQUITA NEELY, ARCHIE B. LEACH, SR., AND MICHAEL J. CARLSON, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
EDUCATIONAL OFFICERS ELECTORAL BOARD FOR PROVISO HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 209, AND MICHAEL MANZO, AND PATRICK HERNANDEZ, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES AND AS MEMBERS OF THE EDUCATIONAL OFFICERS ELECTORAL BOARD FOR PROVISO HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 209, JOSEPH M. PANTALEO, FRED GIANNESCHI, JOSEPH LUKASCEK AND DAVID ORR, IN HIS CAPACITY AS THE COOK COUNTY CLERK, DEFENDANTS, AND ROBERT SMITH, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND AS THE SECRETARY OF BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PROVISO TOWNSHIP HIGH SCHOOL, DISTRICT NO. 209, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gordon
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Honorable Michael J. Murphy, Judge Presiding.
This is an appeal from a writ of mandamus issued by the Cook County circuit court against defendant-appellant Robert Smith as the secretary of the Board of Education of Proviso Township High School District No. 209. The writ was issued pursuant to count III of the complaint filed by plaintiffs-appellees Emanuel Christopher Welch, Lequita Neely, Archie B. Leach, Sr., and Michael J. Carlson, wherein plaintiffs sought to compel defendant-appellant Smith to certify their names to the Cook County Clerk as candidates for membership on the Board of Education of Proviso Township High School District No. 209 (the school board). Plaintiffs filed their nominating papers for membership on the school board on January 23, 2001, the last day for filing, but Smith contends that the papers were filed after 5 p.m. on that day and thus were untimely. Smith therefore declined to certify plaintiffs' names to the Cook County Clerk for the April 3 ballot, and plaintiffs sought mandamus relief to compel him to certify their names. Smith argues on appeal that he had discretion to determine that plaintiffs' nominating papers were untimely filed and that he was thus under no obligation to certify plaintiffs' names for the ballot. He also argues that he did not lose authority to make such determinations once objections were filed challenging the timeliness of plaintiffs' nominating papers. Finally, he contends that it was improper for the circuit court to grant the relief requested, based on the record before it. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the circuit court's granting of the writ of mandamus requested in count III of plaintiffs' complaint.
According to plaintiffs' complaint, plaintiffs Welch and Neely went to Proviso East High School on January 23, 2001, to file nominating papers for themselves and plaintiffs Carlson and Leach as candidates for membership on the District 209 school board, in the election to be held on April 3, 2001. Plaintiffs allege that they arrived at the school at about 4 p.m. on January 23, the last day for filing nominating papers, and went to the office of the superintendent, where they had been told the nomination papers were being accepted. Welch told the superintendent's secretary that he wanted to be the last to file so his name would appear last on the ballot. She told him if he wanted to be last on the list, he would have to wait for an hour. She also told Welch and Neely that as long as they were in the office of the superintendent prior to 5 p.m., as they were, their petitions would be considered timely and would be accepted. According to plaintiffs, the superintendent himself confirmed this information at that time. Welch and Neely remained in the school's main office, which is immediately adjacent to the superintendent's office, and waited to have their petitions filed.
The complaint avers that defendant Michael Manzo, a school board member, and defendant-appellant Robert Smith, the school board secretary, entered the main office at about 4:55 p.m. accompanied by three security guards, including defendants Joseph Lukascek and Fred Gianneschi. Manzo apparently was there to file petitions for another school board candidate, Sharon Hudson. Plaintiffs allege that, contrary to the information they had been given by the superintendent and his secretary, Manzo indicated that the end of the line would be determined by the door of the main office, not the door of the superintendent's office. Manzo then submitted his candidate's nominating papers to the school district's staff for filing. Welch, who was the next person to file, then submitted the nomination papers for all four plaintiffs. Attached to plaintiffs' complaint are receipts for their nomination papers, which were time-stamped as follows: Carlson's, 5:04 p.m. on January 23, 2001; Leach's, 5:06 p.m.; Neely's, 5:07 p.m.; and Welch's, 5:10 p.m.
The complaint further states that on January 30, 2001, defendant Joseph Pantaleo filed objector's petitions with the District 209 Education Officers Electoral Board, challenging the nomination papers of plaintiffs Welch, Neely, Leach and Carlson. In his petitions, copies of which are attached to the complaint, Pantaleo alleged that the nomination papers were not filed until after 5 p.m. on January 23 and that they were thus invalid.
On February 1, 2001, Smith, the school board secretary, filed a certificate of ballot with the Cook County Clerk, listing candidates for the District 209 school board to be included on the official ballot in the April 3 election. None of the four plaintiffs' names was on the list, a copy of which is attached to the complaint. Also attached to the complaint is a copy of a letter dated February 6, 2001, which Smith sent to Welch (and allegedly to each of the other three plaintiffs), informing him that because his nomination papers were filed after 5 p.m. on January 23, his name "ha[d] not been certified to the Cook County Clerk to be placed on the April 3, 2001[,] Consolidated Election Ballot."
In addition, the complaint recites that on February 6, the District 209 Educational Officers Electoral Board (the electoral board), which was made up of defendants Manzo and Smith and defendant Patrick Hernandez (not present), met to consider defendant Pantaleo's objections to plaintiffs' nomination papers. According to the transcript of proceedings, which was attached to plaintiffs' complaint, the electoral board declined to consider the objections or to dismiss them. Counsel for the electoral board explained that since plaintiffs' names had not been certified and thus were not on the ballot, it would be improper to "go ahead" and consider the objections at that time. He also stated that it would not be proper to dismiss the objections, "just in case [plaintiffs' names] are put back on the ballot." Over plaintiffs' objections, the electoral board continued the matter for status to "[s]ee if something has been filed [in court]."
Plaintiffs filed their six-count complaint on February 14, 2001, against the electoral board; Michael Manzo, Robert Smith and Patrick Hernandez, as individuals and as members of the electoral board; Joseph Pantaleo, Fred Gianneschi and Joseph Lukascek; and David Orr in his capacity as Cook County Clerk. In count I, they sought injunctive relief barring defendants Manzo, Smith and Hernandez from serving on the electoral board, and ordering a "properly-composed" electoral board to consider and rule upon the objections to plaintiffs' nomination papers. In count II, plaintiffs sought a writ of mandamus to the same effect. In count III, which is the only count involved in this appeal, plaintiffs requested a writ of mandamus compelling Smith to certify plaintiffs' names to the Cook County Clerk as candidates for membership on the District 209 school board, in accordance with section 9-10 of the Illinois School Code (105 ILCS 5/9-10 (West Supp. 2000)), and sections 10-10 (10 ILCS 5/10-10 (West Supp. 2000)) and 10-15 (10 ILCS 5/10-15 (West 1993)) of the Illinois Election Code. Count IV of the complaint is a request for declaratory judgment, and counts V and VI allege due process and equal protection violations, respectively.
On February 20, 2001, the court heard arguments from both sides, during which the following colloquy took place:
"THE COURT: Well, from the *** record, apparently the [District's administrative] office was open.
Otherwise the file couldn't be-could not have been stamped.
MR. ELLCH [defendants' counsel]: I have no dispute that there were ...