Jurisdiction Okay Despite Candidate’s Appeal Under Wrong Rule

Mary Ann Aiello passed away with more than 29 months left in her term on the Winnebago, Illinois County Board. Theodore Biondo was appointed to fill the vacancy. By the time Biondo’s appointment went through there was less than 28 months left in Aiello’s term.

Under the Illinois Election Code, a person appointed to fill a vacancy completes the term if less than 28 months remain. If more than 28 months remain in the term, then the person appointed stays in office only until the next election. The next election was in 2008, but the Aiello term did not expire until late 2010. The question was when the clock started ticking – when Aiello passed away or when Biondo was appointed.

The Democratic Party submitted Carolyn Gardner as a candidate to run for the Aiello vacancy in the November 2008 election. Believing Biondo could complete Aiello’s term, and that there should not be an election for the seat until 2010, the Republican Party did not submit a candidate for the office. Nor did Biondo apply to run.

Margie Mullins, the County Clerk, sided with Biondo and refused to place Gardner on the ballot. So Gardner sued for a writ of mandamus to direct Mullins to do so.

The trial court agreed with Gardner and directed Mullins to put Gardner on the ballot. Biondi then entered the lawsuit and asked the trial court to direct that his name be placed on the ballot. But the trial court disagreed with Biondo, who then asked the court to reconsider and for a temporary restraining order to prevent the election for Aiello’s seat. The trial court denied both of Biondo’s requests.

Biondo appealed under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 307 [allowing interlocutory appeals of orders refusing restraining orders as of right]. Gardner asked the appellate court to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. One day before the election, the appellate court ruled in favor of Biondo, and stated his name should be on the election ballot. But by then it was too late to change the ballot. The election proceeded with Gardner as the only name of the ballot for the Aiello seat.

Gardner then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Her first argument was that Biondo’s appeal should have been thrown out for lack of jurisdiction. The supreme court agreed that Rule 307 was not the correct rule for Biondo to appeal under. Rule 307 applies only to interlocutory orders. But “Biondo filed a motion for a temporary restraining order after final judgment on the case had been entered [i.e., the order that was entered before Biondo intervened in the case]. Contrary to Biondo’s argument, the filing of a motion to reconsider has no effect on the finality of an otherwise final judgment … Because final judgment had been entered, Biondo’s appeal under Rule 307 was inappropriate as it was not interlocutory in nature.”

But Biondo’s error was not fatal to the appeal. The judgment Biondo contested, the supreme court stated, was final and appealable, so even though he used the wrong rule, there was appellate jurisdiction. Here’s how the Illinois Supreme Court explained it.

The appellate court has jurisdiction to hear appeals of final judgments … Because this appeal is from a final judgment, Biondo’s appeal would have been proper if brought pursuant to Rule 301, as an appeal as of right … Further, instead of filing for a temporary restraining order, Biondo could have properly moved to stay the circuit court’s judgment pending appeal pursuant to Rule 305 … Though the appellate court would have been well within its authority to dismiss Biondo’s appeal for failing to cite the appropriate rule, his error was not sufficient to divest the appellate court of jurisdiction where the court otherwise had jurisdiction.

So Biondo got his day in court. But to no avail, because the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the time begins to run when the vacancy occurs, not when it is filled. Read the whole opinion, Gardner v. Mullins, No. 107707 (9/24/09), by clicking here.