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Lake Circuit candidate can stay on ballot for now

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A Highland attorney is back on the ballot for a Lake Circuit judge opening after he received a temporary restraining order that says the Indiana Election Commission shouldn’t have removed his name as a candidate for the general election.

Marion Superior Judge Michael Keele signed an order Monday putting judicial prospect William I. Fine back on the Nov. 2 ballot. Fine is the Republican candidate for the seat being vacated at year’s end once Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo retires. Merrillville Town Judge George Paras won the Democratic primary in May. No Republican was on the primary ballot, so county party chair Kim Krull in June named Fine to fill that ballot vacancy.

But some questioned his candidacy based on the party chair’s ability to name a candidate herself rather than conducting a caucus as the party rules stipulate. The four-member Indiana Election Commission on Sept. 2 couldn’t reach a decision and deadlocked with a 2-2 vote, meaning Fine was removed from the ballot unless a court action said otherwise.

At that hearing, Fine’s counsel wanted the commission to deny the challenge outright because they didn't believe the state board had jurisdiction to decide the matter because it was a party rule issue. An attorney for Michael Lambert – one of several people who are challenging how Fine was chosen – questioned the Republican Party rules and state statute allowing that to happen without a party caucus and someone else having a chance at the ballot spot.

Represented by Indianapolis attorney David Brooks, Fine appealed late last week in Marion County where the state commission is based.

In a four-page order, Judge Keele determined that immediate action was needed because the local election board will be mailing the absentee and early ballots this week. Fine has a “reasonable likelihood of success on the merits” but likely wouldn’t be able to have a hearing on this matter before that ballot deadline, so he’s without any adequate remedy of law and this restraining order is warranted, the judge ruled.

Specifically, Judge Keele noted that no basis in law exists to interpret state party rules in a way to override a statute and that the election commission doesn’t have the subject matter jurisdiction to endorse state party rules, let alone at the expense of a statutory grant of power to a county chair.

“The injury to Petitioner in removing his name from the ballot in violation of Indiana and Federal law outweigh the potential harm to the IEC or Lambert resulting from the granting of a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction,” Judge Keele wrote, noting that the public interest would be best served by granting both.

A consolidated hearing on Fine’s request for a permanent injunction and declaratory relief to remain on the ballot has been set for 2:30 p.m. Sept. 23.

In response to questions from Indiana Lawyer, Fine wrote that he’s confident his appeal will succeed on the merits and that the state commission doesn’t have the authority to keep him off the ballot.

“Allowing such an intrusion into the political process is inconsistent with rights contained in both the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions,” he said in an e-mail. “The actions taken by the Lake County GOP and its Chairman were entirely appropriate and were consistent with longstanding Indiana law and a proper reading of the Indiana Republican Party Rules. A strong two party system is healthy for a vibrant, diverse community like Lake County and I am proud that our voters will have a choice as to who is elected their next Circuit Court judge.”
 

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