Judge dismisses one of Peoria County Auditor’s referendum challenges

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:02 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25News Now) - Months after voters overwhelmingly decided to eliminate the Peoria County Auditor position, a Peoria County judge dismissed the suit but left the door open to bring the case back.

Judge Bruce Fehrenbacher sided with current Auditor Jessica Thomas and her attorney Justin Penn to dismiss the motion “without prejudice.” Counsel from Peoria State’s Attorney’s office asked the judge to dismiss with prejudice, which would declare there was no merit in the complaint raised by Thomas and fellow plaintiff Karrie Alms.

Deciding without prejudice also leaves the door open for Alms, Thomas, and their counsels to amend their complaint to the court and file it again.

“We can take the same facts and ask for different relief, that’s what amending the complaint is,” Penn said. “If anyone wants to challenge the language of the referendum as being slanted they can do so now.”

The suit alleged the language in the referendum was biased and pushed votes to vote to eliminate the auditor position. Judge James Mack sided with the county to prevent a preliminary injunction to stop the question from appearing on the ballot.

Since the referendum went on the ballot and voters made their decision, state’s attorney representative Jennie Boswell argued the case is over and done and the complaints alleged in the suit are now moot.

We reached out to the State’s Attorney’s office for comment on the dismissal, and have not heard back as of 5 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

With the door open to bring the suit back up again, Penn said they may look to challenge the referendum language more directly and ask a judge to invalidate the referendum’s results.

“Once they figure out how a referendum gets implemented, it can be improper,” Penn said. “They can say ‘this language was confusing and they’re not doing what they say they are doing.’ Or, ‘they can’t do what they tried to do.’”

Penn did not confirm whether or not he would seek to invalidate the referendum results. There is a case precedent to overturn the results of a vote through the judge’s bench.

This isn’t the only legal battle for the auditor’s office. There is a separate suit in the 4th Illinois appellate court to determine if Thomas will be able to finish her term before the office is dissolved. Her term is set to end in 2024.