After a Cook County judge on Monday ruled a Niles citizens' petition on term limits invalid, largely because of its wording, the citizens expressed dismay. However, an attorney for the village said the village clerk was correct in ruling the way she did.
Judge Edmund Ponce de Leon's ruling examined rulings in similar cases, and ultimately concluded that because the petition did not explicitly say the signers signed in the petition circulator's presence, and that they were genuine, they cannot be considered valid under election law. (See the judge's ruling, attached to this article as a .pdf.)
Where does that leave Niles citizens?
Where does that leave the 1,018 Niles voters who signed the petition?
"Those voters have just been disenfranchised because the petition they signed was declared legally deficient. They would have to sign a new petition for a future election if they want the term-limits referendum question to appear on a ballot," said Adam Lasker, an attorney for Joe Makula, who led a citizens' group in collecting signatures on the petition.
Earlier: Petition would have placed on ballot a referendum question asking if Niles elected officials should be limited to 16 years in office
Earlier: Niles files motion to dismiss citizens' group lawsuit
Makula said he was disappointed.
"We're just delaying the day," he observed. "You try again, that's all. People wanted this overwhelmingly."
For the village's part, defense attorney Keri-Lyn Krafthefer said, "We are pleased that the judge confirmed what we believed all along; that Clerk Victorine was correct in not certifying the insufficient petitions.
Village: a matter of correct procedures
"The point was not whether the question should be on the ballot or not, or whether the question has merit or not; it was simply whether the proponents followed the correct procedures to put the question on the ballot," said Krafthefer, an attorney with the firm of Ancel Glink.
"Those procedures, which were created by the General Assembly, not the clerk, exist for a reason. The judge found that the petitions did not comply with the requirements and that the clerk was justified in not placing the question on the ballot."
No exact legal precedent for this case
However, Lasker, the attorney for Makula, said that there has been no Illinois case in which the facts have been the same as this one, meaning there is no exact precedent, and he had believed the judge would apply a substantial-compliance test rather than the strict-compliance test Lasker believes he applied.
"We appreciate that the judge worked hard and studied the case closely before issuing his judgment. However, we disagree with the outcome because we believe it fails to take into consideration the court's history of leaning in favor of our constitutional right to ballot access for candidates and referenda proponents," Lasker said.
Appeal the ruling?
Lasker believes it will be more cost-effective for Makula and the citizens' group to gather the sigatures again rather than file an appeal, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Makula said he hadn't had time to plan the next move.
"But if I could get 940 signatures myself in two months, then with five or six people helping, we can do it easily," he said.
He noted, however, that he believes the trustees could take action to put the term limits question on the ballot.
Thinking ahead to the municipal election next April, when the mayor and three trustees will be up for election, he said, "Anybody with more than 16 years of service will be facing two opponents--term limits and whoever is on the ballot against them."