By Carolyn Marnon – “I think the law is pretty clear that it’s likely the plaintiff will prevail on the merits,” said Chief Judge Robert J. Colombo, Jr. from his Third Judicial Circuit Court courtroom in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on Friday morning, February 2, before ordering the Wayne County Clerk to issue a Call for Election “today.”
The petitions at issue are to recall city councilman Christopher Sanders. Councilman Sanders made a last-minute challenge to the county clerk after the petitions were filed with the county saying the petitions were defective because they lacked a box for out-of-state circulators to mark. The Wayne County Clerk then determined she was without authority to issue a Call for Election because the petition did not comply with the latest version.
“Something about that guy…nine lives,” said Bob Boertje earlier that morning before the hearing. Bob was the impetus behind filing the recall petitions with the county.
Bob grew nervous after Judge Colombo asked Mr. Boertje’s attorney, Scott Ruark, whether he thought Councilman Sanders should have been notified about the emergency hearing being held. Mr. Ruark responded that the issue pertained solely with the County Clerk’s office and the use of the incorrect form.
Attorney Ruark is also a Wayne resident. He stood before the judge in a crowded courtroom of black suits to request the clerk be ordered to issue a Call for Election.
“Democracy is at work with a recall,” said Attorney Ruark.
In his decision, Judge Colombo spoke to those assembled. “The court must consider the following factors. The likelihood that the party seeking the injunction will prevail on the merits. I think the law is pretty clear that it’s likely the plaintiff will prevail on the merits …I totally reject the argument that this court cannot provide a remedy if the county clerk doesn’t comply with the law. That’s what courts are for. We’re still within the period of time that I can order the county clerk to call an election if I believe the county clerk has made an erroneous decision, and I do believe the county clerk has made an erroneous decision.”
“The next factor is the danger that the party seeking the injunction will suffer irreparable injury if the injunction is not issued. I think irreparable injury will occur. What we’re talking about is someone whose gone out and gotten over 1200 signatures for a recall petition against a city councilperson, Mr. Sanders. If I don’t grant this relief, this matter will not be on the ballot. The electorate will be deprived of an opportunity to vote on the recall. If the electorate wanted to recall Mr. Sanders in May, and I don’t enter an order, it allows him to continue in his office until the next election that can be held which would probably be the August primary.”
“The next factor is the risk that the party seeking the injunction would be harmed more by the absence of an injunction than the opposing party would be by the granting of the relief. I do think the plaintiff would be more harmed in this case because of going out and getting these signatures. What we’re talking about, and this is true of just about any elected official except judges, they all can be subject to recall. It’s something that goes with holding elective office in this state. Unfortunately, I think it happens too often. I’m not a big fan of recall elections. I think they are disruptive, but if someone has a valid basis and sets forth the reasons and the election commission approves it and then goes out and gets the signatures, it seems to me that balancing that harm-the harm is greater to the plaintiff than it is to Mr. Sanders. And I don’t see any damage to the county clerk because the county clerk is required just as I am required to follow the law.”
“The harm to the public interest if the injunction is issued…There’s been an issued raised with respect to a vote allegedly made by Mr. Sanders to extend his term. This is the basis for the recall petition. I think that the harm is greater to the public who would not be given the opportunity to vote on this matter if, in fact, I do not grant the relief.”
“Finally, this is a pure ministerial act of the county clerk, and I believe that the county clerk should have performed the ministerial act of calling the election. Because it didn’t comply with the requirement, the county clerk did not comply with the requirement that the form should be reviewed seven days within the filing of the petition. It’s my position it was waived and that could not be the basis for denying the call, the recall election. So I will enter an order today ordering the county clerk, today, to call for an election on this recall petition,” stated Judge Colombo after nearly an hour.
Earlier in the proceedings, Wayne County Attorney Janet Anderson-Davis had argued that election law says that Mr. Boertje could redo the petition and thus would not be suffering irreparable harm by doing so. Councilman Sanders’ attorney Michael P. Hindelang said “no one is asking the votes to be disregarded.” Anderson-Davis also argued that Mr. Boertje could have looked at the Michigan statute to make sure he had the correct form. “Why didn’t the county clerk do that?” roared Judge Colombo.
“My client has done everything he was asked to do by the city clerk,” said Attorney Ruark.
A plaque hanging outside the courtroom reads: “The court provides accessible and equal justice with timely dispute resolution.”
When asked how he felt about the judge’s decision, Mr. Boertje replied “Relief. Relief.” What makes this even more of a victory for Bob is that he has been dealing with non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to other parts of his body. He has had radiation, chemotherapy and is now in a University of Michigan drug study that he says is “keeping me alive. I didn’t want to let the people of the recall down, so I would walk as much as I could for the recall. It wasn’t just about me. It was about what was right. You think you’re doing what is right and then Wayne County makes all these mistakes.”
“As a citizen of Wayne, I want to thank Bob Boertje because Friday’s ruling wouldn’t have happened without him,” said Mr. Ruark. “It was a privilege to represent someone who refused to be pushed around by the government. I’m thrilled for Bob and the 1,281 residents of Wayne who had their voices collectively ignored by the Wayne County Clerk’s Office. This matter is too critical to the future of Wayne to allow Councilman Sanders to avoid the will of the people. This doesn’t mean Councilman Sanders will be recalled. Friday’s ruling only means there will be a special election held in May and the residents of Wayne will decide whether or not Sanders will continue as a councilman. Sanders’ decision to file an objection at the last minute, hoping to avoid the will of the people he swore to serve, is concerning. A councilperson should be able to stand by their record and the work they’ve done when facing a recall election. There is no integrity in fighting tooth and nail to get off on an alleged technicality.”
There will be a Special Recall Election in Wayne on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at which time candidates for City Council Ward 1-partial term ending November 9, 2020 will be voted upon for the purpose of recall/filling the remaining term of Wayne City Councilman Christopher Sanders. The deadline for candidates to file a nonpartisan nominating petition containing at least 10% of the required number of signatures for the electoral district OR a $100 filing fee is February 12 at 4:00 p.m.
As of press time Councilman Jeremiah Webster had filed to run against Councilman Sanders in May.