A Cook County judge on Friday ordered the Cook County Clerk to remove Rocco DeSantis’ name from its list of eligible write-in candidates and not to count any write-in votes he receives for North Riverside mayor on April 9.
Judge Paul Karkula made his ruling about 2:45 p.m. on Friday during an emergency hearing held at the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago. A motion to convene the emergency hearing was made earlier on Friday by Burt Odelson, attorney for North Riverside resident John Beresheim, who had challenged DeSantis’ eligibility for the office.
Odelson pointed to the decision of the Illinois Court of Appeals, which released its written opinion on April 2. In that decision, Presiding Justice P. Scott Neville wrote that the appellate court agreed with the North Riverside electoral board’s decision to declare DeSantis ineligible to run for mayor, because he was not officially retired as an officer of the North Riverside Police Department.
“We agree with the board’s conclusion that an unretired police officer receiving a disability pension remains ineligible for office,” Neville wrote.
Odelson said the county clerk’s decision to include DeSantis’ name on a list of eligible write-in candidates was a “fraud on the voters.”
“He is ineligible for office, period,” Odelson added.
DeSantis’ attorney, Lawrence Zdarsky, argued that Karkula lacked jurisdiction to hear the case and that the Cook County clerk had already complied with an Illinois Appellate Court’s order to remove DeSantis’ name from the ballot.
Both Zdarsky and Assistant State’s Attorney Marie Spicuzza argued that DeSantis had complied with election law in filing timely paperwork with the county clerk’s office to have his name certified as an eligible write-in candidate. Any challenge to DeSantis’ legitimacy as a candidate could be dealt with after the election, they argued.
But Karkula disagreed, saying that allowing DeSantis’ name to appear on a list of eligible write-in candidates would give voters the impression that he was eligible to serve, when the appellate court had already ruled otherwise.
“If I do nothing, the people of North Riverside are going to be led to believe there are two viable candidates,” Karkula said. “How can I allow that when the board of elections has said he’s not eligible … and the appellate court has said he’s not eligible? He’s ineligible to take office.”
Because there is no way to prevent voters from writing in DeSantis’ name on their ballots on April 9, Zdarsky asked that Karkula order the county clerk to keep the ballots after the election in case his client decided to appeal Karkula’s ruling and the ruling of the appellate court.
“I would like the clerk to preserve the ballots for Rocco DeSantis,” Zdarsky said. “These issues aren’t done.”
Karkula did not indicate that he would concur with Zdarsky’s request.
Following the hearing, Zdarsky was adamant in his opinion that Karkula didn’t have the jurisdiction to hear the case and said an appeal is possible.
“This decision is clearly appealable,” he said.