Judge overturns Pinedale Town election
Town Council Candidates
Dave Hohl, far right, will replace David Smith, third from the right, as Pinedale Town Councilman, effective immediately. The lawsuit was filed by unsuccessful candidate Robert Brito, far left. Also named in the suit were Chris House, third from the left, and Eric Ashley, second from the right. Pinedale Online file photo from the April 2006 candidate debates.
183 votes no longer count
The votes of 183 Pinedale voters have been tossed out the window with the decision by District Court Judge Norman Young on Wednesday. The Judge ruled that Town Councilman David Smith was not a registered voter on the day he submitted his request to be placed on the ballot for Town Council. The decision was part of a civil lawsuit filed by Pinedale citizens Loretta Deats and Robert Brito contesting the election. Smith received the most votes of any candidate in the election. As a result of the ruling, effective immediately, Smith is off the Town Council and is replaced by Dave Hohl, the next qualified candidate who received the next highest number of votes in the election (110 votes). Photo by Pinedale Online (file photo).
Smith out, Hohl in; Decision effective immediately
by Pinedale Online!
March 21, 2007
District Court Judge Norman E. Young handed in his decision on the lawsuit by Loretta M. Deats and Robert Brito Jr against the Pinedale Town Council contesting the election of Dave Smith to the Pinedale Town Council in May, 2006. The Plaintiffs filed a civil action contending that David M. Smith was not a qualified elector of the Town of Pinedale because he was not a registered voter on April 7, 2006, the day he submitted a request to have his name placed on the official election ballot as a candidate for the office of Town Council.
In the 13-page ruling, Judge Young said the remedy for a finding that a putative municipal office holder is ineligible to hold office is described by Wyoming state statutes. In the case where there is more than one qualified candidate, the election shall not be declared null and void, but the qualified candidates receiving the highest number of legal votes shall be declared elected. In this case, the two qualified candidates receiving the highest number of legal votes were Chris House with 125 votes and Dave Hohl with 108 votes. “Dave Smith was not a qualified candidate and he is hereby declared not to have been elected to the Town Council of Pinedale. The election of Dave Smith is hereby annulled and set aside. Chris House and Dave Hohl are hereby declared to be elected to the Town Council of Pinedale.”
Dave Smith received 183 official votes in the election, the most of any of the Town Council candidates.
Plaintiff Brito was represented by Rock Springs attorney Clark Stith. Defendants Dave Smith, Patty Racich and Erik Ashley were represented by Pinedale attorney Ralph Wood. The hearing for the motion was held on March 8, 2007.
Defendants Smith and Ashley were apparently unaware that they were not registered voters on the day they applied to be placed on the ballot, and the Pinedale Town Clerk did not verify that any of the candidates were registered on the day they submitted their applications. All candidates were registered voters on the day of the election. Wyoming statutes state that in order to be eligible, a candidate must be a registered voter and a resident of the municipality he seeks to represent on the day the Petition is filed.
The judge ruled that costs for the case would be assessed against Dave Smith, however that cost determination would be deferred pending a final resolution of the entire case.
The Town had requested that the Court stay the order pending further proceedings and potential appeal. The Judge ruled that since Dave Smith does not lawfully hold the office of Town Council, the success of the appeal would be low. He wrote there is danger of irreparable damage from his continued purported service on the council, therefore he denied the stay and ordered that the order and judgment become effective immediately.
Judge Young wrote, “Plaintiff Robert John Brito Jr.’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED. The election of Dave Smith is hereby annulled and set aside. Chris House and Dave Hohl are hereby declared to be elected to the Town Council of Pinedale. This judgment is effective immediately. Costs are awarded to the Plaintiff.”
Pinedale Mayor Stephen Smith issued the following statement Wednesday regarding the lawsuit against the Town of Pinedale contesting the May 2006 municipal election. "District Court Judge Norman Young entered his formal order today. He did not issue a stay of Judgment as previously requested. As a result, Councilman David Smith will be replaced by the candidate with the third highest votes, Dave Hohl, in accordance wtih state statute Wy. Stat. 22-17-108. We are sorry to see Councilman Smith go, and I personally appreciate his dedication and service to the town. We will all continue working productively with our new councilman, to continue solving the many pressing issues facing our town."
See the links below for a printable PDF of the Order.
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order and Judgment (Civil Action No. 2006-6855, Loretta M. Deats and Robert John Brito, Jr (Plaintiffs) vs. Dave M. Smith, Chris House, Patty Racich and Erik Ashley (Defendants), District Court, Ninth Judicial District, Sublette County, Wyoming) 13 page, 605K PDF
Editorial: Town Council lawsuit is bad in every way (by Pinedale Roundup Editor Mike Fitzgerald, March 15, 2007)
Pinedale 2006 Municipal Election Results (Pinedale Online! May 2, 2006)
Pinedale councilman ordered out (BillingsGazette.com, AP, 3/22/07)