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Watson v. Electoral Board of Village of Bradley

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

May 24, 2013

MICHAEL "MIKE" WATSON, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
THE ELECTORAL BOARD OF THE VILLAGE OF BRADLEY, and MICHAEL LaGESSE, ROBERT REDMOND and GERALD BALTHAZOR, Members, and MICHAEL SMITH, Objector, Respondents-Appellees.

Rule 23 Order filed March 27, 2013

Motion to publish allowed May 24, 2013

Held [*]

Respondent electoral board’s decision to remove petitioner’s name from the ballot as a candidate for village president was reversed, where the board erred in imputing to petitioner an alleged debt for a license fee owed by a corporation petitioner served as president and in finding that petitioner did not meet the residency requirement of the Illinois Municipal Code, since a corporation is separate and distinct from its directors and officers, and the objector clearly did not meet his burden of establishing that petitioner failed to satisfy the residency requirement.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kankakee County, No. 13-MR-80; the Hon. James B. Kinzer, Judge, presiding.

Jennifer J. Sackett Pohlenz, of Clark Hill PC, of Chicago, for appellant.

Paul L. Stephanides, of Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., of Mokena, and M. Neal Smith, of Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., of Chicago, for appellee Electoral Board of the Village of Bradley.

James R. Rowe, of Law Firm of Rowe & Associates, of Kankakee, for appellee Michael Smith.

Presiding Justice Wright and Justice McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

SCHMIDT JUSTICE

¶ 1 Petitioner, Michael "Mike" Watson, filed a statement of candidacy and corresponding petitions for nomination (nominating papers) seeking the office of village president of the Village of Bradley, Illinois. Thereafter, Michael Smith wrote a letter to the village clerk "objecting to the nominating petition of Michael Watson." The Electoral Board of the Village of Bradley (Electoral Board) conducted a hearing on Smith's objections, after which it struck the candidate's name from the official ballot for the consolidated election to be held on April 9, 2013. The candidate sought judicial review of that decision. On February 25, 2013, the circuit court of Kankakee County confirmed the findings and holdings of the Electoral Board. This appeal followed. We reverse.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On December 20, 2013, Watson filed his statement of candidacy seeking the office of the village president for the Village of Bradley. Watson also filed the necessary petitions for nomination containing the adequate number of voters' signatures in support of his candidacy. Thereafter, on January 2, 2013, Michael W. Smith of 1177 George Lane, Bourbonnais, Illinois, 60914, wrote a letter to Michael LaGesse, the village clerk for the Village of Bradley. The letter voices Smith's "objection to the nominating petition of Michael Watson." The letter indicates that Smith is a resident of the Village of Bradley and characterizes the "nature" of Smith's objection being "that Michael Watson is in arrears in the payment of a tax or other indebtedness due the Village of Bradley" in violation of section 3.1-10-5(b) of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/3.1-10-5(b) (West 2010)). Smith's letter does not identify exactly what debt is owed by Watson to the village, how long Watson has been in arrears, or in what amount Watson is in arrears to the village.

¶ 4 The letter also alleges Watson "has not resided in the Village of Bradley for at least one year next preceding the April 9, 2013" election. This, Smith claims, disqualifies Watson from seeking office pursuant to section 3.1-10-5(a) of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1.1-10-5(a) (West 2010)).

¶ 5 The Electoral Board personally served Watson with notice of the objection and scheduled hearing at his residence of 296 South Quincy, Bradley, Illinois, 60915.

¶ 6 The Electoral Board, consisting of Robert Redmond, Gerald Balthazor and Michael LaGesse, convened on January 14, January 25, and January 30 of 2013 for the purpose of taking evidence and hearing arguments in this matter. During the hearings, the objector called candidate Watson to testify. Watson testified that he is the president of United Disposal of Bradley, Inc. (United Disposal), and has been since 1984. He identified a document United Disposal filed with the Illinois Secretary of the State. Watson noted he signed the document under penalty of perjury.

¶ 7 Line five of the document shows Watson is the president of United Disposal. It further has a typewritten address of 6290 South 1000 East Road, Chebanse, Illinois, attributed to Watson. Watson indicated he signed the document sometime in May of 2012. Two lines below line five on the document, however, Watson's name appears again, only this time the address attributed to him is 296 South Quincy, Bradley, Illinois, 60915. The Bradley address appears on the document in handwriting. The document also indicates one officer of United Disposal, Melvin Watson, lives at 272 South Quincy, Bradley, Illinois, 60915.

¶ 8 Watson noted this document was not prepared in his office but, instead, by United Disposal's attorneys. As he began signing it, he realized the address had not been changed so he instructed his office clerk to make the appropriate changes.

ΒΆ 9 Watson also discussed a letter admitted into evidence dated April 4, 2012. The document states that Watson would resign as village president of Sammons Point effective April 5, 2012, as he has "decided to move back to Bradley." Watson testified that on ...


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