Delayed COA appeal declared moot

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal by an election board and political candidates who challenged a candidate's ability to run as an Independent because the candidate had already lost in the election when the appeal finally made it before the appellate court.

The appeal, Lake County Board of Elections and Registrations, Myrna Maldonado, Richard Medina, and Juda Parks v. Anthony Copeland, No. 45A04-0710-CV-560, came before the Court of Appeals after the November 2007 election because of an error in the clerk's office, which rendered the appeal moot.

Incumbent Anthony Copeland wanted to run as an Independent for an at-large seat on East Chicago's Common Council. He was originally elected to that seat in 2003 as a Democrat and at the time of filing his paperwork to run as an Independent, he was still the chairman of the East Chicago Democratic Committee.

Myrna Maldonado, Richard Medina, and Juda Parks (challengers) were also running for council seats and opposed Copeland's running as an Independent. They alleged under Indiana law, Copeland was not allowed to run as an Independent while still affiliated with the Democratic Party.

The Election Board voted to remove Copeland's name from the Nov. 6, 2007, ballot. An emergency hearing was set in September 2007, in which the trial court ruled there was no evidence presented by the challengers that would disqualify Copeland from running as an Independent. The court granted a preliminary injunction, ordering the Election Board to reinstate Copeland as a candidate. The challengers tried to have the Indiana Supreme Court accept the case, but the court denied the appeal.

The Court of Appeals in mid-October 2007 issued an order granting the challengers' motion to consolidate and motion to expedite. Their brief was due Oct. 18, 2007; Copeland's was due Oct. 24, 2007.

For reasons unknown to the court, the case wasn't transmitted to the appellate court until January 2008, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. The clerk of the courts online docket shows both sets of briefs were submitted either before or on their due dates; however, the appellant brief was filestamped Oct. 24, 2007, and Copeland's brief didn't initially have a stamp. It was later back-filestamped to Oct. 24, 2007.

Because of error on the part of both parties in filing, the clerk's office could not filestamp the briefs until they were complete, wrote Supreme Court Administrator and Clerk of the Appellate Courts and Tax Courts Kevin Smith in an e-mail to Indiana Lawyer. The challengers submitted the brief without a copy of the appealed judgment; they fixed the defect on Oct. 24, 2007, which is when it was filestamped. Copeland left out a copy of a page of his brief and failed to attach a proper certificate of service to show he served the challengers with the missing page, so his appeal was not filed.

"The following day, (Copeland) tendered an additional nine copies of the page missing from his brief, along with an updated certificate of service; however, the updated certificate of service was also insufficient to show that he had served the Appellants with the missing page. Accordingly, again his brief was not filed. At that point, we should have discussed with the Court of Appeals what it wanted for us to do. We failed to do so, however, and that was our fault," wrote Smith.

The reason the case continued to be delayed was human error and a flaw in the case management's calendaring, so the case was not transmitted to the Court of Appeals as it should have been, according to Smith. Copeland's brief was not filestamped with the date Oct. 24, 2007, until staff from the writing judge's chambers in January 2008 inquired on the case; his brief remained incomplete at that time.

"Thereafter, we investigated the causes that led to our oversight and uncovered the holes in our various systems that created the ability for this to happen. We immediately took steps to plug those holes," Smith wrote.

Smith wrote that even though those holes are now plugged, if a case does fall through an unforeseen crack in the system, counsel is encouraged to contact the clerk, deputy clerk, or Administration Office of the Court to find out if the case has been transmitted.

Because the case, which was supposed to be expedited, didn't appear before the appellate court until after the election, the appeal is rendered moot, wrote Judge Vaidik. Copeland was on the ballot and lost the election. Also, the appellate court chose to not rule on the case because even if the issues in the appeal are of great public importance, they are unlikely to recur.

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