DECATUR — As all sides anxiously await a judge’s decision in the legal fight over who should be Macon County Sheriff, mystery surrounds a new written entry in the court docket.
On Monday an entry was added that reads: “The Court entered the following docket entry: Written Order entered to be filed under seal as per written order entered on July 24, 2019. Letter from the Court to Counsel sent by email this date.”
John Fogarty, the lawyer representing Republican challenger Lt. Jim Root, said Thursday he’s not aware of receiving any notifications and isn’t sure what the entry is referring to. The mention of the July, 2019 date is, he said, a reference to the filing of an earlier recount report.
The incumbent Sheriff Tony Brown, a Democrat, confirmed Thursday that he is unaware of any official new notice sent from the court.
The entry was discovered during a regular check of the court file and after the courthouse had closed for the day, preventing contact with Champaign County Circuit Court Judge Anna M. Benjamin seeking clarification.
The legal fight over the results of the 2018 sheriff’s race began before the dust from the close-fought contest had even settled. Brown had been declared the winner by just one vote — 19,655 to Root’s tally of 19,654.
A “discovery recount” of ballots followed in December 2018 to gather evidence to persuade a judge to order a full recount. Benjamin, brought in as an impartial jurist to handle the legal battle, then ordered a full hand recount in July 2020.
This time Brown re-emerged the winner with a margin of 18 votes, but the recount also revealed dozens and dozens of disputed ballots. And there were two uncounted ballots for Root that had previously been discovered in a ballot tabulating machine and then forgotten until after the 2018 count had been ratified.
Benjamin then presided over five court hearings that finished up in February as lawyers on both sides fought over issues ranging from what ballots should count to questions of whether there had been any election fraud.
Now, after both sides also submitted detailed closing written arguments, it's up to Judge Benjamin to make her decision as to who she believes is the rightful winner. But how much longer we will wait to hear that decision is yet another mystery.
Fogarty said the judge had a mass of evidence to weigh-up and decide. “Both sides put a lot of effort into their written closings and we presented the court with a lot of material, a lot of material,” he added.
The lawyer said the judge may call all sides together to give her decision, or to have specific new questions answered, or she might make up her mind and announce her decision in writing.
“No, there does not have to be a hearing,” Fogarty said.
PHOTOS: Jim Root, Tony Brown and the Macon County sheriff's race
Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid