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’
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
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
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
“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