A federal judge has ordered the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and an ousted Chicago Republican Party committeeman to pay the local GOP’s attorney fees and costs for a court fight that followed the Chicago Elections Board’s attempt to force the local Republican Party to seat committemen, even if those committeemen had voted in previous years in Democratic primaries, in violation of the local party’s rules.

On Dec. 22, U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur ordered the Chicago board and would-be Republican committeeman Frances Sapone to pay $24,795 in attorney fees and costs the Cook County and Chicago Republican parties said they had incurred staving off the Chicago board’s intervention in the parties’ affairs.

The case landed before Shadur earlier in 2016, after the Cook County and Chicago Republicans moved to oust certain elected committeemen the party said had voted in Democratic Party primary elections in the previous eight years. Shortly before the March 16, 2016, primary balloting, the local GOP committees had slipped provisions prohibiting voting in those other parties’ primaries for eight years before securing a committeeman seat in the local party. Commiteemen are able to vote on party rules and on slating candidates, should no one step forward to run in certain races or for other reasons.

On March 16, Sapone was elected Republican committeeman in Chicago’s 29th Ward and Sammy Tenuta was elected committeeman in the 36th Ward. Both ran unopposed.

However, local party leaders determined both Sapone and Tenuta had voted in Democratic primaries in the past eight years, and refused to seat them as committeeman, asserting they and others like them could be moles infiltrating party ranks on behalf of Democrats.

After the local GOP selected candidate Jeffrey Leef to represent the party in the Seventh Congressional District race, Sapone and Tenuta then appealed to the Chicago Elections Board, which declared Leef’s selection should be overturned, because the party had not properly notified Sapone and Tenuta about the committee vote on Leef’s candidacy.

The local GOP parties then sued, asking Shadur to bar the Chicago board from intervening in the selection process.

In September, Shadur agreed, saying it was “not a close case at all,” and the city board had no authority to order the GOP to seat committeemen.

The board and Sapone have appealed the decision to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

While a ruling in that appeal is still pending, the Chicago and Cook County GOP organizations have asked the court to order the board and Sapone, as the losing party thus far, to pay up for picking the fight in the first place.

Both Sapone and the Chicago board argued they should not be on the hook.

Sapone argued she was a “bystander” in the litigation, which, she asserted, actually involved only the elections board and the local GOP groups.

Shadur, however, said such reasoning is “revisionist history,” as it was Sapone’s complaint that first launched the series of events that led to the litigation.

“When the GOP filed suit in federal court to enjoin the Board from conducting further hearings, Sapone did not simply sit back and observe,” Shadur said. “Once again Sapone's motives are far from those of an innocent voter or concerned citizen - as the GOP has convincingly demonstrated, Sapone became a purported Republican ward committeeman in order to prevent any real Republican from landing on the 7th Congressional District's ballot.”

The judge also shot down the board’s attempts to shirk responsibility, as well. While the board had taken on the role of “impartial advisor” in the matter after Shadur’s preliminary injunction, the judge said that doesn’t brush aside the board’s role in instigating the events leading to the litigation.

“As the Board would have it, Sapone -- who filed her objection with the Board, not in the form of a state court lawsuit - is solely responsible for the fact that the Board was called before this federal court,” Shadur wrote. “But whether or not it believes that this case provided the most appropriate occasion to litigate the Section 3 issue in federal court, the Board must contend with the facts that (1) its own actions prompted the GOP to file this case and (2) that instead of remaining neutral (as it later did at the summary judgment stage) while the GOP and the Sapone-Tenuta duo duked it out on the Section 3 issue, it chose to play the role of an active advocate by participating against the GOP throughout the majority of the proceedings.”

The Republicans were represented by Boulton & Associates. The Board of Election Commissioners was represented by James M. Scanlon & Associates. Sapone and Tenuta were represented by the Law Office of Pericles Camberis Abbasi. All the firms are of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago Boulton & Associates Cook County Republican Party James M. Scanlon & Associates Law Offices of Pericles Camberis Abbasi

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