By Carolyn Marnon – On August 28, the Honorable Robert J. Colombo Jr of the Third Circuit Court ordered “The Wayne County Clerk must immediately remove Christopher J. Sanders from the ballot as a candidate for Mayor in the City of Wayne, Michigan in November 2018 general election for the reasons stated in open court on record,” in the case of Robert W. Boertje and John P. Rhaesa v. Wayne County and Cathy Garrett in her capacity as Wayne County Clerk.
A statement from Scott Ruark, Mr. Boertje’s attorney reads: “Judge Colombo absolutely made the right decision. There is no question that the affidavit submitted by Mr. Sanders should have been rejected by the County Clerk. Mr. Sanders altered the affidavit because he couldn’t truthfully state that he didn’t owe fees. Therefore, the affidavit was facially invalid, and the County Clerk’s Office had a legal duty to reject it. Mr. Sanders should have been instructed to submit a new affidavit and also advised that submitting the affidavit with knowledge that he owed fees could result in a felony charge. Had this been allowed, the affidavit would be meaningless. This case was one more necessary step in moving our city in the right direction. Bob Boertje continues to correct the errors of our government.”
This issue was initiated by Wayne resident Bob Boertje who had also led the recent effort to recall Mr. Sanders from his seat as a Wayne councilman. Mr. Sanders lost the recall election to present councilman Jeremiah Webster.
Mr. Boertje and Mr. Rhaesa filed an Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Order to Show Cause claiming the Wayne County Clerk unlawfully certified Mr. Sanders as a candidate for office in the upcoming November 6 election. And that immediate action was required because ballot language had to be finalized and sent to the Secretary of State on September 7th.
In addressing the Wayne City Council on September 4, Mr. Boertje said Judge Colombo “chose to hold Mr. Sanders accountable” for signing an affidavit of identity form attesting that all campaign finance reports have been filed and all fees/fines have been paid. Mr. Sanders signed the form with “no” next to the area about the reports and fines. He was found to be non-compliant by signing the form, although he did avoid perjury by writing “no” before signing.
According to the court records, Mr. Sanders had outstanding fines and fees totaling $4,000 at the time of submitting the affidavit. Mr. Rhaesa was informed in April he had outstanding fees and paid those fees 3 days later. Mr. Sanders has not paid his fees.Wayne County claimed it was too late to make changes to the ballots. Evidence brought before Judge Colombo did not support the claim.
Although Mr. Boertje initially filed with the court to have Mr. Sanders’ name removed, he said his attorney, Scott Ruark, suggested that Mr. Rhaesa’s name be added to the complaint to cover all possible basis for it to be denied. Mr. Rhaesa said he was added in case the judge needed to see there was a victim in the case; he would be the victim if Mr. Sanders were allowed to continue on the ballot after doing the wrong thing with the filing forms.
According to Attorney Scott Ruark, “When I was first asked to take on this case by Bob, there didn’t appear to be anything illegal about Mr. Sanders running for Mayor in the same year that he was recalled or because he owed campaign finance fees. Due to my respect for Bob, I investigated what happened and once I received all the documents from Wayne County, my eye immediately went to Mr. Sanders’ handwritten “No” on the Affidavit of Identity. Once I saw that, I told Bob there was a case and I got to work. During the recall campaign, Mr. Sanders had Wayne County remove the special election based on an alleged technicality. I wasn’t going to allow a technicality to derail this case so it was my decision to include Mr. Rhaesa as a plaintiff because there was a potential argument that Bob lacked standing. I completely disagree with Mr. Sanders’ statement that his removal from the ballot was in contrast with Judge Colombo Jr.’s ruling in the recall case. In the recall case, Wayne County supplied the petitions to Bob and then Wayne County claimed the petitions weren’t proper. Here, Wayne County had a legal duty to verify that the Affidavit of Identity was facially valid and didn’t omit any required information. By writing “No” next to the Campaign Finance Compliance Statement and Attestation, Mr. Sanders omitted required information because the instruction on the back of the form states, “Do not sign or submit this affidavit unless you are able to agree with the facts set forth in the Campaign Finance Compliance Statement.” Mr. Sanders could not agree with the facts, so he wrote “No” and Wayne County should have rejected the affidavit. Judge Colombo Jr.’s ruling was absolutely correct because had he ruled the other way, it would have created a giant loop hole for anyone who owed campaign finance fees and the affidavit would serve no purpose. My grievance in both of these cases has never been with Mr. Sanders, it’s been with the government and its failure to follow the law.”