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Court consolidates Lake County voter cases

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The Indiana Supreme Court has stepped in to settle conflicting rulings from two Lake County courts regarding early-voting sites in East Chicago, Gary, and Hammond, deciding that consolidating the cases to proceed in Lake Superior Court is the "most orderly approach."

In the order State of Indiana ex rel., John B. Curley, et al. v. The Lake Circuit Court and Hon. Lorenzo Arredondo, as judge thereof, No. 45S00-0810-OR-555, issued late Tuesday evening, the majority noted that normally such actions are viewed with disfavor and the court doesn't grant writs of mandamus and prohibition when there is an adequate remedy through the appellate process; however, it noted the conflict in this case between the Circuit and Superior courts' decisions warrants the high court's attention.

Realtors John B. Curley, as chairman of the Lake County Republican Committee, and Jim B. Brown, as a member of the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration, filed an action Oct. 2 in Lake Superior Court against the Lake County Board of Elections and Registration and Judge Thomas Philpot, not individually but as the Lake County Clerk. On Oct. 6, the United Steelworkers District 7; Hammond Teachers Federation Local 394, American Federation of Teachers; Earline Rogers; and Roxanna Luco filed an action in Lake Circuit Court against the Board of Elections and Registration.

The board removed the Superior Court case to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana; while the case was pending before the District Court, the Superior Court entered a temporary restraining order directing the board not to open early-voting sites in Lake County. The Circuit Court entered a temporary restraining order three days later directing the board to open early the voting sites.

The plaintiffs in the Superior Court case filed the original action contesting the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court over the similar lawsuit.

Citing Indiana Trial Rule 42(D), Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Brent Dickson, Frank Sullivan, and Theodore Boehm ruled that the Circuit Court case should be consolidated with the Superior Court case, with both matters proceeding before the Superior Court on a consolidated basis. The majority upheld the preliminary injunction entered by the Circuit Court Oct. 14 directing the board to open early-voting sites, and instructed the parties to exercise any right to a change of judge.

Justice Robert Rucker dissented from the majority's decision, writing he would deny the requested issuance of the writ and allow the Circuit Court's restraining order to stand. Curley and Brown, who sought this order, didn't request or mention that they wanted the cases consolidated. In their petition, the only relief they requested was to have the Circuit Court lawsuit dismissed, wrote Justice Rucker.

Justice Boehm concurred in result with the majority in a separate opinion, but agreed with Justice Rucker that ordinarily this type of writ would be denied because dismissal under Trial Rule 12(B)(8) is not mandatory. However, because the conflicting rulings between the courts causes uncertainty for voters as to whether they can vote before Election Day, he concurs with consolidating the cases in order to expedite the resolution.

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