ILNews

Court rules on Merit Board election

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Court of Appeals ruled today that John Buncich can retain his elected position on the Lake County Sheriff's Merit Board. In Lake County Sheriff's Merit Board v. John Buncich, et al., the court affirmed the trial court's decision in favor of Buncich's complaint for declaratory judgment and preliminary injunction, and in the alternative a temporary restraining order to prevent a new election.

Buncich ran for a vacant position on Lake County Sheriff's Merit Board in June 2006 and received 83 of the 120 votes cast. Prior to the election, it was determined there were 168 eligible voters. Lake County Police Department Chief Marco Kuyachich and Merit Board recording secretary Geraldine Larson concluded that Buncich did not win the election because he did not receive a "majority" of the votes of the LCPD members, even though he had the majority of votes cast. They argued 85 votes were needed to qualify as the winner, and the Merit Board voted to hold another election.

Buncich filed a complaint in the Lake Superior Court, asking the trial court to declare him the winner of the election and prohibit the Merit Board from taking any action until the vacant seat was filled. The trial court ruled in Buncich's favor.

In today's opinion authored by Justice Patrick Sullivan, the Merit Board sought an appeal stating the trial court should have dismissed Buncich's action because "an action in the nature of quo warranto is the only proper remedy." An action in quo warranto may be filed "[w]hen a person usurps, intrudes into, or unlawfully holds or exercises a public office or franchise in Indiana ..." I.C. §34-17-1-1(1).

According to the applicable statute, Judge Sullivan writes that there is no person against whom an action in quo warranto could be brought because no one occupies the seat on the Merit Board.

The Merit Board also argued that while Buncich received the majority of votes cast, he did not receive the majority vote of all the 168 members, thus he did not win the election, citing Indiana statute §36-8-10-3(b). Breaking down the statute, the court found that the word "majority" describes "vote" not "the members of the county police force." It concluded that based on I.C. §36-8-10-3(b), a successful candidate only needs to obtain a majority vote of the members who do vote. Judge Sullivan wrote also that the trial court did not error in using extrinsic sources to modify the plain meaning of the statute - in this case Robert's Rules of Order.

The Merit Board also argued that there was insufficient evidence before the trial court that Buncich was qualified to hold office as a member of the Merit Board. But because this issue was only argued and no evidence was introduced, the Court of Appeals ruled the Merit Board could not inject this issue at such a late stage.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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