Declaring they did not believe state lawmakers intended for candidates to be removed from the ballot over “absurdity,” a state appeals court has ruled Illinois attorney general candidate Scott Drury should remain on the Democratic primary ballot, despite an attempt to have him removed over his alleged failure to file a new economic interest statement when he switched to pursuing election as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
The Illinois First District Appellate Court ruled on an appeal from the decision of Cook County Circuit Judge Alfred J. Paul, and ordered Drury’s name to remain on the ballot for the March 20 election.
The justices issued their decision in an unpublished order Feb. 16. Justice Maureen E. Connors wrote the order; Justices Thomas E. Hoffman and Daniel J. Pierce concurred. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent.
On Dec. 11, a plaintiff identified as Thomas J. Rottman Jr. filed an objection to Drury’s nomination petition with the Illinois State Officers Electoral Board, saying the candidate failed to prove submission of his statement of economic interest with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office. Rottman acknowledged Drury had filed such a statement within the preceding year. But he argued Drury had done so in his capacity as an elected state representative, which Rottman said is distinct from Drury’s aspirations of becoming attorney general, because the latter post is connected to a different branch of government.
On Jan. 5 a hearing examiner recommended the objection be sustained, which would remove Drury’s name from the primary ballot. The State Board of Elections’ general counsel disagreed, saying Drury’s economic interest form related to the entire state and not only his 58th representative district. On Jan. 11, the Electoral Board overruled Rottman’s objection, but he appealed that decision to circuit court on Jan. 16.
Paul issued his opinion Feb. 2, reversing the board’s decision and striking Drury’s name from the ballot. He appealed the same day, and on Feb. 5 the appellate panel stayed enforcement of Paul’s order and granted expedited consideration.
In reversing Paul’s decision, the panel said neither the Election Code, Ethics Act nor Illinois Constitution are written to imply the alleged distinction between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government. Connors explained it is reasonable to construe a distinction between the state and a local government unit, but that the constitution “provides that state offices, units of local government, and — key for this case — branches of government are not synonymous.”
In analyzing the language of the Ethics Act and Election Code, Connors wrote the panel presumed “the legislature did not intend absurdity, inconvenience, or injustice. If Drury were required to fill out a new statement of economic interests because he sought to move from one state office to another, he would be filling out the exact same form. We do not believe that the legislature intended that result.”
The panel also noted why Rottman’s citations didn’t help his cause, including one where a candidate filed his economic interest statement with the wrong state agency and one where the candidate sought to leave employment with the Chicago school board for an elected post as alderman on the Chicago City Council. A third case, which both parties cited, hinged only on whether the statement in question was filed on time.
Drury also asked the court to strike a portion of Rottman’s appellate brief which concerned the way his candidacy appeared on the Secretary of State website. While the panel agreed Rottman didn’t properly support his argument, the panel said it simply disregarded the argument.
“Our supreme court has stated that ‘access to a place on the ballot is a substantial right not lightly to be denied,’” the appellate justices wrote. “Further, we must tread cautiously when construing statutory language that restricts the people’s right to endorse and nominate the candidate of their choice.”