Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit Will County, Illinois Appeal No. 3-12-0699 Honorable Barbara N. Petrungaro, Judge, Presiding. Circuit No. 12-MR-1589 (cons. with 12-MR-1590, 12-MR-1591, 12-MR-1592, 12-MR-1593, 12-MR-1594, 12-MR-1595
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Carter
JUSTICE CARTER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Lytton and Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Petitioners, Mario P. Carlasare, Donald A. Moran, Reed Bible, Chester J. Strzelczyk III, Chris Michael Griffin, Santino Lettieri, and John J. Sanchez, Jr. (collectively referred to as the candidates), filed a petition for judicial review of a decision of the Will County Officers Electoral Board (the electoral board), which ordered the Will County clerk to reject the nomination papers of the candidates for the November 2012 election for the Will County board. After a hearing, the trial court confirmed the electoral board's ruling. The candidates appeal. We reverse the decisions of the electoral board and the trial court, order that the candidates be placed on the ballot immediately, and remand this case for further proceedings.
¶ 3 After the March 2012 primary election, the Democratic Central Committee (the central committee) in Will County was left with several vacancies in nomination in various districts of the Will County board for the November 2012 election.*fn1 Pursuant to the Election Code, since no candidate had been set forth on the ballot or nominated as a write-in candidate in the primary election, a candidate had to be designated by a district committee for each county board district, which was to be comprised of only the precinct committeemen for that district. See 10 ILCS 5/7-7, 7-8.01, 7-61 (West 2010). The organization convention of the central committee was scheduled to reconvene on May 9 (the May meeting). At the May meeting, candidates were designated for each vacant slot in each of the Will County board districts (the districts). Those candidates, the seven petitioners in this appeal, obtained the requisite signatures and filed the necessary nomination papers to run as Democratic candidates for the county board in each of the various districts.
¶ 4 In June, a challenge was filed as to the nomination papers of the candidates by the following objectors: Ron A. Lullo, Dolores M. Hornbeck, Robin Ambrosia, Paul M. Anderson, M. Michael Reilly, and Peggy S. Mathews (collectively referred to as the objectors). The objectors alleged that the nomination papers were invalid, in part, because the designation process was fatally flawed in that a proper district committee was never formed to make the designation because: (1) all of the precinct committeemen for each district were not given reasonable and timely notice that such action would be taken during, or immediately after, the May meeting; and (2) Scott Pyles, the chairman of the central committee, participated in the designation process as the de facto chairman of each district committee, even though he was only a precinct committeeman for one of the districts and was not eligible to participate on the district committee for any other district. The objection was later expanded to include an allegation that the designation process was improper in that the designations were made by subcommittees of the district committees, which were erroneously appointed by the central committee as a whole, rather than by the district committees themselves.
¶ 5 A hearing was held over two days in June and July before the electoral board. The evidence presented at that hearing relevant to the issue raised on appeal can be briefly summarized as follows. Scott Pyles testified that he was elected the chairman of the central committee at its organization convention, which initially convened on April 18 (the April meeting). Pyles spoke at the April meeting and informed the precinct committeemen who were present that they needed to designate candidates for the county board for the upcoming election, that they would do so at the May meeting (the reconvening of the central committee organization convention), and that it was important for them to be at that meeting. Pyles did not remember who was present at the April meeting when he made that announcement or what he specifically said and did not have a copy of the minutes for that meeting with him at the electoral board hearing. A notice of the May meeting was sent by e-mail to all of the precinct committeemen (approximately 100). The notice indicated that at the date, time, and location listed, the central committee would reconvene its reorganization convention. An e-mail address and phone number were provided in the case the recipients had any questions. A notice was also posted on the Internet.
¶ 6 At the May meeting, there were about 50 to 100 people present. During the discussion of new business, Pyles again informed the precinct committeemen of the need to designate candidates for the county board spots and told them that meetings to do so would be held directly after the ongoing meeting. Pyles asked for volunteers to serve on the district subcommittees. At the end of the central committee meeting or after the meeting was over, the district subcommittees met and designated their candidates. Pyles, as chairman, was a de facto member of each district subcommittee but did not participate in the selection process. The designated candidates were provided with information packets regarding the steps they needed to take to obtain the nomination. During Pyles's testimony, the written notice that was e-mailed to all of the committeemen and the minutes from the May meeting were offered into evidence by the objectors. Pyles stated that he would stipulate to those documents. In addition, the electoral board had before it a list of the precinct committeemen for each of the county board districts in question.
¶ 7 Karen Gonzalez, the secretary of the central committee and one of the precinct committeemen, testified that she sent out the above notice regarding the May meeting to all of the precinct committeemen by e-mail. A written notice with the same information was also sent by United States mail. Gonzalez confirmed that Pyles had spoken about the matter at both the April and May meetings. Gonzalez stated that she used a computer program which showed whether the e-mail notices had been received but did not have the results of that program with her.*fn2
¶ 8 At least one precinct committeemen was called to testify from each county board district where there was a vacancy. The testimony from those witnesses varied. Some of the witnesses remembered Pyles discussing the vacancies at the conventions; others did not remember or did not think he had done so but acknowledged that they may have been disinterested or out of the room at the time. Some of the witnesses testified that they had received a notice, either by e-mail or by mail; others did not remember getting a notice. In addition, one witness testified that he did not get a notice of the May meeting but also stated that he was in Florida for the winter months, including the dates of the April and May meetings. Another witness testified that he did not get a notice of the May meeting but stated that he was informed about the need to designate candidates at a meeting he had attended in his local township.
¶ 9 At the conclusion of the hearing, on July 24, the three-person electoral board issued a written decision. With one member dissenting, the electoral board found that the designation process was improper and that the nomination papers of the candidates should be rejected. The electoral board held that notice was a mandatory requirement of the Election Code and that notice of the district committee meetings was deficient in this case because a written notice, which would have specified that district committee or subcommittee meetings were to be held at or immediately after the May meeting for the purpose of making designations, was never sent and because no evidence was presented as to whom oral notice was directed to or as to who attended the May meeting based upon the giving of oral notice. The electoral board also held that the designation process was improper because the district subcommittees were appointed by the central committee as a whole, rather than by the individual district committees. The electoral board ordered the county clerk to reject the nomination papers of the candidates.
¶ 10 One member of the electoral board dissented and stated that she disagreed with certain aspects of the majority's interpretation of the Election Code, that she would have found notice to be sufficient, and that ...