DECATUR — Litigation that could solidify or reverse the result of the Macon County sheriff's race is awaiting assignment of a judge to oversee the case.
It’s been nearly a month since Jim Root, the GOP sheriff candidate, petitioned the Macon County Circuit Court to name him to the office after a race that saw Democrat Tony Brown win by a single vote, 19,655 to 19,654. Both were top lieutenants in the department, where they each have served for many years. The case has since been moved out of Macon County to prevent any conflict of interest.
Brown began his tenure as sheriff on Dec. 1. Root and local Republicans spent several weeks gathering evidence of multiple errors they said were made during the election, hoping to persuade a judge that the wrong person was named sheriff.
Root and Republicans have raised a number of issues since a Nov. 30 discovery recount, a nonbinding process that the losing candidate can undertake to find evidence that would prompt a judge to order a full recount.
Issues cited by Root include:
- Two ballots for Root in Hickory Point Precinct 1 were, for reasons still unknown, not counted on election night;
- A ballot for Root was not counted. On it, the voter placed an “X” next to the names of the candidates for whom he or she wished to vote, rather than darkening the box next to the candidate's name.
- A ballot that was originally marked as an undervote — a ballot on which not all races received a vote — was marked as a vote for Root. It was found during the second discovery count on Dec. 16.
- Two votes for Brown were not initialed by any election judge as required by the Election Code.
Under state law, a recount must be ordered by the court system. Root is responsible for the cost, even if the election results are overturned.
Root is not seeking a full recount. Instead, he asked the court to include the two uncounted ballots with the final election results and to implement a full manual recount of Election Day ballots cast in Hickory Point Precinct 7, where the other ballots at issue were cast.
Root and Republicans will have to continue their wait for their day in court.
Initial plans were for Champaign County Judge Thomas Difanis to oversee the case. Brown's attorney, Christopher Sherer of Springfield, filed a motion late last week to substitute the judge. The petition did not give a reason for seeking a different judge, but noted that “each party is entitled to one substitution of judge without cause.”
Sherer, when reached Monday afternoon at his office, said it is his policy to not comment on pending litigation.
Now it is up to Karle Koritz, chief judge of the 6th Judicial Circuit, which includes Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt counties, to assign a new judge to the case.
The legal maneuvering began shortly after the original petition was filed on Dec. 19 by Root's attorney, John Fogarty of Chicago. The next day, Macon County’s Presiding Judge A.G. Webber referred the matter to then-Chief Judge Richard Broch, who assigned the case to Diganis.
It is unknown how long it will take before a new judge is assigned to the case. Through his secretary, Koritz said he does not comment on ongoing cases. Fogarty did not return a message left Monday on his cell phone.
Root declined to comment. Brown did not immediately return a message.
Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles
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