Today, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg released an order overturning a unanimous decision of the Indiana Recount Commission (that he actually signed yesterday) finding White to be an eligible voter and candidate for the office he holds and sided with a complaint filed by the Indiana Democratic Party. Rosenberg handed down his decision just days before the most holy of Christian holidays ordering the Recount Commission to certify the losing Democratic candidate, Vop Osili, as the winner of a race in which he received only 38% of the vote. The decision on the eve of the Christmas holiday makes it impossible for the Recount Commission to meet quickly and provide the required 48-hour notice for holding emergency meetings. White and the Indiana Attorney General's Office plan to appeal the decision. Because of the urgency of deciding who has the right to hold a constitutionally-elected office, the matter is likely to be appealed directly to the Supreme Court. White will continue to hold the office while the matter is appealed unless otherwise ordered.
You will recall that Judge Louis Rosenberg's daughter, Erin, is one of the first Democratic activists to investigate and make the case that White should be declared ineligible to run for the office of secretary of state just weeks before the November, 2010 election based on the fact that White claimed his ex-wife's home as his residence for voting purposes for a several month period before he sought the Republican nomination for secretary of state and before he moved into his new residence with his second wife following his marriage to her. Rosenberg's daughter, who had worked on the staff of U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D) and was attending law school, published her findings and legal arguments in a partisan political blog. She publicly called on the Republican prosecutor to recuse herself from deciding how to handle the case, pressing for the appointment of a special prosecutor. White's ex-wife's home had served as the marital residence during his marriage to her, and he testified before the Recount Commission that he struggled financially as his ex-wife re-mortgaged the marital residence in her name before was able to close on the purchase of a condominium he intended to live in with his second wife. Both his current wife and second wife gave testimony before the Recount Commission that supported White's contention that he intended to establish his voting residence at his ex-wife's home before his marriage and permanent move into the new home he purchased. At all times, White resided in Hamilton County where he has resided his entire adult life since graduating from college.
The Indiana Constitution requires a person, in order to be eligible to serve as governor or lt. governor, must be at least 30 years of age and reside in the state for a minimum period of five (5) years before seeking the office. In contrast, the state constitution imposes no age or residency requirement on the persons who hold the other constitutional offices in Indiana, including secretary of state. State law imposes a requirement that a person be a registered voter of the state. There is no dispute that White was at all times a registered voter of Indiana. Judge Rosenberg has added a further requirement not expressly provided in statute that a person must also be "legally" registered to vote in the precinct in which they cast a vote. After returning the decision to the Recount Commission for rehearing after it earlier rejected the Democratic Party's complaint against White, the three-panel commission, including a former Democratic judge, unanimously agreed that the evidence supported White's contention that he had intended to make his ex-wife's home his residence for voting purposes prior to his marriage to his second wife consistent with applicable Indiana statutory and case law.
While Judge Rosenberg cautioned that he was not concluding that White's actions were "fraudulent" or "constituted a crime," he found that the same evidence heard by the Recount Commission led him to conclude that White was illegally registered to vote. Judge Rosenberg found the evidence made it clear to him that White did not intend to make his wife's residence his permanent voting address; therefore, he concluded he was not legally registered to vote there and could not have been a candidate for secretary of state. The ruling, if carried through to its practical impact, would result in many prominent elected officials, past and present, being declared unlawfully registered to vote. Sen. Richard Lugar, for example, has registered to vote, cast numerous ballots and stood for election every six years since 1976 from a home he sold more than three decades ago. Based on Rosenberg's analysis, it would be impossible to find an intent for Lugar to permanently reside at a home in which he long ago gave up an ownership interest. Marion Co. Prosecutor Terry Curry refused to investigate a complaint White had forwarded to his office challenging Lugar's voter registration. A community activist, Greg Wright, has subsequently filed a complaint with the Indiana Election Commission challenging Lugar's voting residency, which is currently under review by the staff. A Democratic staffer for the Election Division has told the media he believes the Election Commission should investigate the allegations contained in the Lugar complaint.
You can read Judge Rosenberg's eight-page ruling here. Note that Judge Rosenberg's order was dated yesterday. Yet he held up its release until near the close of business today, after many were already getting an early start on their Christmas holiday weekend. I fully anticipate that it will be rejected by the Supreme Court unless the court decides to overrule decades of standing precedent to find in favor of the Democratic Party and take the extraordinary step of overturning the election of the popularly-elected choice of the voters for the office of secretary of state.
UPDATE: This decision poses a complicated predicament for the Recount Commission. You may recall that Tom Wheeler had been appointed as a Republican chairman of the commission to substitute for White since he could not decide a challenge to his own eligibility as the Secretary of State. Wheeler is unsure that he is even eligible to resume that post since he stepped down following the Recount Commission's unanimous decision in White's favor last June. Wheeler wonder whether he has authority to convene a meeting of the Commission to request a formal appeal of the decision. The Evanville Courier-Press's Eric Bradner explains:
The steps the Recount Commission must take to deal with Rosenberg’s ruling get complicated.
Wheeler’s capacity, he said, is not quite clear. He was appointed to lead the panel when White, who would otherwise have been the chairman, removed himself. But once the panel made its decision, it – and his position – dissolved.
“It stopped as a matter of law. Right now there is no Recount Commission; there is no chair of the Recount Commission,” he said.
Wheeler, who was appointed by Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb to replace White, who would normally serve on the panel, said he would call for a meeting, which would require 48 hours’ public notice ahead of time, if he could.
“I’ve asked the attorney general’s office for an opinion as to whether I am chairman or not; whether I can convene a meeting or not,” Wheeler said. “Am I in? Am I out? If I’m out, does the Republican Party chair reappoint a chairman?”Regardless of Wheeler's legal standing to chair the Commission, the Attorney General has a legal duty to appeal the Commission's decision since it was a validly-constituted state governmental authority acting within the scope of its authority in rendering its well-founded decision on the Democratic Party's complaint. State GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb is calling for a direct appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office issued a statement indicating he would appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals.
“One obligation of our office is to represent state government boards such as the Indiana Recount Commission in lawsuits, and when a board’s unanimous administrative decision is overturned by a court, the order should be reviewed by a higher court. We will seek a stay of the court’s ruling and are in communication with our client the Recount Commission to discuss the process of an appeal.”Fox 59 News had a rushed story tonight claiming White was already out of his job after Judge Rosernberg's highly questionable ruling. White will remain in office while the decision is under appeal if past precedents are any guide.