APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY No. 2011-COEL-31 JOSE "CHAVELO" RODRIGUEZ, HONORABLE JUDGE PRESIDING.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hoffman
JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Presiding Justice Hall and Justice Rochford concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 The petitioner, Sergio Bocanegra, filed written objections to the candidacy of respondent, Jesus "Jesse" Iniguez (candidate Iniguez), who sought election as alderman for the Twelfth Ward of the City of Chicago in the Municipal General Election to be held on February 22, 2011. After an evidentiary hearing, the Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago (the Board) overruled the petitioner's objections and determined that candidate Iniguez was entitled to have his name included on the ballot as an aldermanic candidate. The petitioner sought judicial review in the circuit court of Cook County, which confirmed the decision of the Board. The petitioner now appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the decision of the circuit court.
¶ 2 The relevant facts are undisputed.*fn1 In April 2010, candidate Iniguez created a campaign committee to promote his candidacy for alderman of the Twelfth Ward, and the committee filed a statement of organization on April 22, 2010. Candidate Iniguez filed a statement of financial interests with the City of Chicago Board of Ethics (Ethics Board) on November 12, 2010, and filed his nomination papers, along with his statement of candidacy, three days later.
¶ 3 The petitioner thereafter challenged candidate Iniguez's eligibility for aldermanic office by filing an objection before the Board. In his objection, which was docketed as 11-EB-ALD-199, the petitioner asserted that candidate Iniguez's oath, included in his statement of candidacy, was false because he had not filed a statement of financial interests with the Ethics Board within five days after qualifying as a candidate, in accordance with section 2-164-0-50 of the City of Chicago Campaign Financing Ordinance (Chicago Municipal Code § 2-164-0-50 (amended Dec. 5, 1990)) (Campaign Financing Ordinance). The petitioner further asserted that the failure to timely file a statement of financial interests with the Ethics Board rendered candidate Iniguez ineligible to take the oath of office and, therefore, precluded him from being included on the ballot for the February 2011 election.
¶ 4 Candidate Iniguez moved to dismiss the objection, and the petitioner filed a response. The hearing examiner appointed by the Board ruled in favor of candidate Iniguez and dismissed the petitioner's objection. The hearing examiner's findings and recommendations were adopted by the Board, which overruled the petitioner's objections and found that candidate Iniguez's nomination papers were valid. The Board's decision was based on the fact that the City could not alter the statutory requirements for elective municipal office merely by passing an ordinance, without adoption of a referendum. In addition, the Board determined that it did not have authority to address a violation of the Campaign Financing Ordinance. The Board noted that the ordinance specifically provided that the Ethics Board has the authority to initiate, receive, investigate, and act upon complaints of violations of its provisions. Chicago Municipal Code § 2-164-0-70 (amended Dec. 5, 1990). Accordingly, the Board concluded that it could not enforce the ordinance by removing the name of a candidate from the ballot.
¶ 5 Simultaneous with these proceedings, the petitioner filed a second objection challenging the nomination papers of Jose "Chavelo" Rodriguez, another candidate who also sought election as alderman for the Twelfth Ward. This second objection was docketed as 11-EB-ALD-197 and was premised on the same legal argument regarding the untimely filing of a statement of financial interests mandated by the Campaign Financing Ordinance. The hearing examiner's dismissal of this objection also was adopted by the Board.
¶ 6 The petitioner filed a single petition for judicial review in the circuit court, challenging the Board's decision in both cases. The circuit court confirmed the Board's decision finding that candidate Iniguez's nomination papers were valid, and the petitioner has appealed.*fn2
¶ 7 Initially, we note that this appeal presents an issue of election law that is subject to review under the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. A case on appeal is moot where the issues raised below no longer exist because events subsequent to the filing of the appeal make it impossible for the reviewing court to grant the complaining party effective relief. Hossfeld, 238 Ill. 2d at 423-24; Cinkus, 228 Ill. 2d at 207--08. Yet, the public-interest exception permits a court to reach the merits of a case which would otherwise be moot if the question presented is of a public nature, an authoritative resolution of the question is desirable for the purpose of guiding public officers, and the question is likely to recur. Bonaguro, 158 Ill. 2d at 395. All three of these factors are present here.
¶ 8 This appeal presents a question of election law which, inherently, is a matter of public concern. Lucas v. Lakin, 175 Ill.2d 166, 170, 676 N.E.2d 637 (1997). In addition, disputes over ballot access based on the failure to comply with the Campaign Financing Ordinance are likely to recur in the future. Finally, resolution of such a dispute will aid election officials and circuit courts in deciding such disputes promptly. Thus, although the February 2011 election has been held and the aldermanic vacancy at issue in this case has been filled, this appeal falls within the public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine.
¶ 9 The fundamental issue presented by this appeal is whether the failure to timely file a statement of financial interests, as required by section 2-164-0-50 of the Campaign Financing Ordinance, which was not passed by referendum, precludes a candidate from having his name included on the ballot for an aldermanic election. We note that neither party has cited any Illinois case deciding this precise question. Because resolution of this issue presents a pure question of law, requiring the construction of statutory provisions, our review is de novo. Hossfeld v. Illinois State Bd. of Elections, 238 Ill. 2d 418, 423, 939 N.E.2d 368 (2010). When interpreting a statute, the primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, and the most reliable indication of the legislature's intent is the plain language of the statute. Metzger v. DaRosa, 209 Ill. 2d 30, 34-35, 805 N.E.2d 1165 (2004).
¶ 10 The Campaign Financing Ordinance provides, in relevant part, as follows:
"Every person who qualifies as a candidate shall thereby become a 'reporting individual' for purposes of Chapter 2-156 of this code, and shall file a statement of financial interests, in the form prescribed by the Board of Ethics pursuant to said chapter, within five days after qualifying as a candidate." Chicago Municipal Code § 2-164-0-50 (amended Dec. 5, 1990).
The ordinance further provides that "[n]o elected official shall be allowed to take the oath of office, continue in office or receive compensation from the City unless he has filed the [required] statement of financial interest." Chicago Municipal Code § 2-164-0-60 (amended Dec. 5, 1990). In addition, the ordinance states that the Ethics Board has the authority to initiate, receive, investigate, and act upon ...