Volume 6, Number 51 - March 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Judge rules on town election lawsuit
Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Norman Young ruled from the bench last Thursday that councilman Dave Smith was not a qualified candidate at the time of the Pinedale Municipal Election and declared Dave Hohl the elected official.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Clark Stith, said the judge found that Dave Smith was ineligible to hold office on the town council because he was not a registered voter on the day he filled out his application to be placed on the ballot.
The judge, acting under applicable state law, declared Dave Hohl elected to the town council of Pinedale along with Chris House, Stith said.
“We had asked for a special election; however, the judge felt that he was constrained by the election laws to ... install the next highest vote getter,” Stith said. “And that’s the right decision.”
The civil action filed on May 30, 2006, challenged the May 2, 2006, town election, claiming that two of the candidates, David M. Smith and Erik Ashley, were not qualified electors as they failed to meet the registered voter requirement and should not have been on the ballot. With the most votes of any candidate at 183, Dave Smith was elected to the Pinedale Town Council along with Chris House, who is also named as a defendant in the suit along with Ashley and Pinedale Town Clerk Patty Racich.
The plaintiffs, Robert Brito, who was also a candidate in the election, along with fellow Pinedale resident Loretta Deats, filed the civil action asking the May 2, 2006, municipal election to be annulled and that David Hohl, the candidate with the third highest number of votes, take the council seat, according to court documents.
Brito said Monday the suit was not against Dave Smith personally.
“It’s against election laws,” he said. “They didn’t follow them.”
“This is the United States,” Brito added. “We’re having people fight in Iraq and Afghanistan for rights as citizens. We should be able to get the … elections ... we should be experts at it in the U.S. and we’re not,” Brito said.
Thursday’s decision does not go into effect until it is signed and filed in the District Court, nor does it put an end to the election challenge.
“There’s more to the suit with the votes themselves still in the pipeline,” Brito said.
The ruling may also call into question the validity of actions taken by the Town Council with Dave Smith in the office.
“Every decision that he has made is now illegal,” Brito said. “Everything that he has done has to be re-voted on by the new Town Council. Everything that he had a hand in now is void.”
“I believe it is important the town move forward,” Stith said. “It’s important that the judges order be given immediate force and effect so that Dave Hohl can take his place on the town council.”
Pinedale Mayor Steve Smith issued a statement based on discussion with Pinedale’s Town Attorney Ed Wood concerning the suit.
“The court ruled that since councilman David Smith was not registered to vote the day he applied to be a candidate in the town’s election, he was not a qualified candidate, and therefore not qualified to hold office,” Smith said in a statement. “Any changes on Pinedale’s Town Council are currently awaiting a decision on the stay pending an appeal requested by our attorney. That decision will not be rendered until sometime during the next two weeks”
Briefs filed for the case in January presented the argument that the state requires a candidate to be a registered voter on the day the petition is filed, and that because Smith was not a registered voter on that day, he was not eligible to be a candidate for Town Council. The plaintiff’s filed a motion in December asking for a partial summary judgment, and a hearing was set before Young in Lander on March 8, in which Young ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor but had not yet decided on the request for a stay on the decision pending an appeal.
If the judge grants the request for a stay, Dave Smith would continue to hold his seat on the council until the Wyoming Supreme Court makes a ruling on the matter.
“Stays can be appropriate if there is some risk or irreparable harm from immediate enforcement,” Stith said. “We believe irreparable harm would come from not enforcing the judgment.”
Brito said the Town opting to appeal the case the Wyoming Supreme Court is a waste.
“I think it’s an extreme waste of money,” he said. “Of course, I’m going to continue.” Brito said the decision was made from the bench and that nothing was gray about the qualifications of a candidate.
“Dave Smith and Erik Ashley should not have been on the ballet,” he said. “There were no gray issues. To fight this to the Supreme Court when the same ruling is going to come out is a waste of tax payer money.”
Meeting with a lot of opposition at the start of the suit against the town because “that’s just not the way we do things here.” Brito said he became upset because, from his point of view, not following the election laws was “taking the freedoms and rights away from Pinedale people.”
Stith commented that Brito took on the election challenge without any gain for himself in order to show that the rule of law is important.
“I think Robert believes all candidates should play by the same rules,” he said.
“There was a wrong there that needed to be righted,” Brito said.
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