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Sullivan’s lawyer asks court to reconsider

March 4, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Former Cape Coral mayor John Sullivan and his lawyer plan to take the case of the close election to another level.

On Friday, Sullivan's lawyer, Leigh Fisher, filed a 14-page motion of reconsideration with the circuit court, asking the court to rethink Judge Alane Laboda's judgment last month.

Two weeks ago, Laboda denied a request from Sullivan for a new election after Sullivan dropped his initial bid for a recount. She upheld the Nov. 5 election results, saying the case was "without merit" and ordered Sullivan to pay the costs of the defendants, who include current mayor and election victor Marni Sawicki.

Fisher's new motion follows the same ground as did the arguments presented at the Feb. 12 trial. The plaintiffs continue to question the composition of the canvassing board, which was City Clerk Rebecca Van Duetekom, Cape Councilmember Rana Erbrick and Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington, and continue to allege that the board did not follow state statutes.

State statutes say the board shall consist of a county judge, supervisor of elections and the chairman of the board of county commissioners.

The defense contends that statute does not apply to municipal elections.

David Carr, who ran for mayor in 2013 and is one of the plaintiffs in the case, said he knew pretty quick this had the potential to get ugly.

"When I ran for mayor and read the charter, I knew we already weren't running the election legally," Carr said. "Every city in the county has phrases in their charter on how their canvassing board will be comprised."

Fisher also again cited the allegations of a polling place closing early, that two voters from Port Charlotte illegally cast ballots and two others should have been disqualified, provisional ballots, and the high number of early voters who voted for Sawicki when Sullivan earned the most votes on Election Day and in absentee votes.

Fisher, in his motion, also asked the court to revoke the sanctions levied on the plaintiffs for court costs and legal fees, estimated at roughly $130,000.

Harrington calls the motion pure chutzpah on the part of the plaintiffs.

"I don't think it's going to change anything. He's thrown me under the bus already. Maybe I should see what my legal fees are and get him to back off," Harrington said. "We have special elections and municipal elections to deal with. I don't have time to deal with this."

Harrington said a ballot review ordered by the court cost about $2,000, with seven staff members tied up for two days going through all the early, absentee and provisional ballots, as well as 11 precincts.

Carr said Sawicki is seeking compensation from the wrong people and that despite the ruling, his side proved its case on three judiciable issues and therefore there was no bad faith.

"They should receive compensation from the election board because they were the ones who didn't follow statute. We would never have taken this to court if not for the blatant statute issue," Carr said. "We felt we may need to pay costs, but the fees issue was never thought of because we thought we had a firm case."

Sawicki won the election by 121 votes, or by about three-quarters of 1 percent, just over the half-percentage point threshold that would have triggered an automatic recount.



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