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Guerrero v. Municipal Officers Electoral Board of Village of Franklin Park

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

May 16, 2017


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No.2017 COEL 29 consolidated with No. 2017 COEL 30 No. 2017 COEL 31 No. 2017 COEL 32 No. 2017 COEL 33, Honorable Laguina Clay-Herron, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.Justices Neville and Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.


          MASON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The Municipal Officer Electoral Board of Franklin Park (Board), its members and objector Robert J. Godlewski (collectively, respondents) appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County reversing the Board's final decision, which determined that petitioners, candidates for various offices in the Village of Franklin Park, were ineligible to appear on the ballot for the April 4, 2017 municipal election. The circuit court ruled that certain defects common to petitioners' respective statements of economic interests did not invalidate their candidacies and directed that petitioners' names appear on the ballot. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 Each of the petitioners filed statements of candidacy with the Village clerk as part of the newly formed Citizens for Change Party seeking to be placed on the ballot for municipal elections to be held in Franklin Park on April 4, 2017. As a slate, petitioners sought election to the following positions: Village President (Cynthia Guerrero); Village Clerk (Michael LaCassa); and Village Trustee (Christopher Litwin, Diego DiMarco and Frank Houswerth). The statement of candidacy filed by each petitioner listed his or her home address.

         ¶ 3 The petitioners also filed with the Cook County Clerk a statement of economic interests listing "DNA" (i.e., "does not apply") in answer to every question on the form seeking disclosure of relevant economic interests. There is a space at the top of the form under the candidate's name to fill in the office the candidate is seeking. Each petitioner wrote the title of the office, i.e., "Village President'" "Village Clerk, " etc., but did not list Franklin Park as the municipality for which the disclosures were made. Although verifications were signed by petitioners, they were all undated. Petitioners' addresses were not listed on the forms, nor does there appear to be any place on the form that calls for an address, although the Illinois Government Ethics Act (Ethics Act) provides for an address. See 5 ILCS 420/4A-104 (West 2016). The forms were all file-stamped as received in the Office of the County Clerk on December 8, 2016.

         ¶ 4 On December 27, 2016, respondent Godlewski filed objections to each petitioner's nominating papers. In his objections, Godlewski claimed that petitioners filed "deficient receipts" relating to their statements of economic interests. But given that petitioners filed the entirety of their economic statements as their "receipts, " the substance of Godlewski's objections actually related to certain information he claimed was lacking in the statements themselves. In particular, Godlewski claimed petitioners' statements were deficient in that petitioners failed to (1) identify the municipality in which they sought elective office, (2) list their respective addresses and (3) date the verification. Godlewski contended that each of these defects invalidated petitioners' nominating papers.

         ¶ 5 The Board convened and held hearings on Godlewski's objections to each nominating petition that spanned several days in January 2017. The hearings on Godlewski's objections were consolidated with the hearing on motions to dismiss filed by each petitioner. In substantially identical decisions entered on January 25, 2017, the Board, with one member dissenting, sustained Godlewski's objections and denied petitioners' motions to dismiss. The Board directed that each petitioner's name not appear on the ballot for the upcoming election.

         ¶ 6 Specifically, the Board noted that the parties agreed that each statement of economic interests failed to list the unit of government for which the particular office was sought, the candidate's address or a date next to the candidate's verification. The parties' disagreement focused on "the legal effect of the foregoing admitted facts." The Board conceded that each candidate's address and the unit of government for which office was sought were included in the nominating petitions and statements of candidacy. The Board further observed that neither objector nor petitioners had offered any evidence as to whether the omissions in the statement of economic interests were intentional or inadvertent.

         ¶ 7 On the merits, the Board noted that section 10-5 of the Illinois Election Code invalidates nomination papers if the candidate "fails to file a statement of economic interest as required by the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act in relation to his candidacy." 10 ILCS 5/10-5 (West 2016). While an electoral board generally does not have statutory jurisdiction to inquire into the truth of disclosures made by the candidate, it may nevertheless determine whether the statement itself was duly filed in relation to the candidacy. Given that the purpose of a statement of economic interests is to promote full disclosure of any actual or potential conflicts a candidate may have so that the electorate may be better informed, the Board concluded that by merely listing the title of the office sought without indicating the identity of the municipality, each petitioner had failed to satisfy the filing requirement of section 10-5: "By merely listing [the title of the office] with no further information to supplement the disclosure, [petitioners] effectively insulated [themselves] from (i) any charges of perjury related to the answers provided … and (ii) public scrutiny about business dealings [they] may or may not have with the Village of Franklin Park." The Board reasoned:

"[I]f a hypothetical 'bad guy' wanted to avoid answering questions about his connections to his municipality, he would have done exactly what Candidate did here. [citation om.]. By merely stating 'Village President' ['Village Clerk' or 'Village Trustee'], the Candidate has not made a disclosure relative to any office of a unit of local government. Candidate could answer honestly every question about some vague office of 'Village President' ['Village Clerk' or 'Village Trustee'] which could arguably relate to the Village of Skokie, the Village of LaGrange, or the Village of Evergreen Park, but technically having avoided providing any answers about his dealings with the Village of Franklin Park. In addition, this hypothetical 'bad guy' is insulated from public scrutiny from his constituents or criticism by the media that his answers were incomplete or less than forthcoming. [citation om.] In this case, Candidate could argue that he answered fully all the questions posed on the [Statement of Economic Interest] but his answers had nothing to do with the office of Village President, [Village Clerk or Village Trustee] of the Village of Franklin Park. If deliberate, the Cook County State's Attorney could not prosecute the Candidate for perjury, nor could the Chicago Tribune criticize the Candidate for being untruthful."

         ¶ 8 The Board further found that the lack of a date on the verification was also problematic because, without a date, "it cannot be determined what year the disclosure relates to." The Board noted that the Ethics Act specifically requires that a statement of economic interest "shall be verified, dated and signed by the person making the statement." 5 ILCS 420/4A-104 (West 2016). Although each of petitioners' statements contained a date stamp from the Cook County Clerk, the Board concluded that this was insufficient to identify the year to which the disclosures related. The Board did not consider or find that petitioners' failure to list an address on their disclosures was a separate basis upon which their disclosures were defective.

         ¶ 9 Petitioners each sought review of the Board's decision in the circuit court of Cook County. The matters were thereafter consolidated. The circuit court reversed the Board's decision in each case and directed that petitioners' names appear on the ballot. Respondents appeal to this court.

         ¶ 10 Electoral boards are considered to be administrative agencies. Jackson v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, 2012 IL 111928, ¶ 46; Cinkus v. Village of Stickney Municipal Officers Electoral Board, 228 Ill.2d 200, 209 (2008). Under section 10-10.1 of the Code, a candidate or objector aggrieved by the final decision of an electoral board ...

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