While you can argue that a violation of election laws is a violation, the ruling from three administrative law judges in a case involving the Northland Remer-Longville School Board election doesn't quite rank up there as the Case of the Century.
Still, the apparent inadvertent omission of an address from a disclaimer in campaign material as required by law set off quite a controversy in the Remer-Longville area.
And a story on the ruling in the Brainerd Dispatch on Page 6A in Tuesday's edition failed to underscore the fact that the judges called it a "technical violation" that possibly didn't even require legal action after last November's election.
The three-judge panel heard the case brought by unsuccessful school board candidate Billie Jo Lilyquist against Superintendent Mike Doro and Northland Vote Yes Committee members Patsy Bernhjelm and Jo Boblett, both of Outing. The ruling said they had made technical violations of election laws when they failed to provide an address for the Northland Vote Yes Committee on write-in school board candidate literature they produced and/or distributed.
One of the original defendants, Tony Gross, a management aide with the school district in Remer, was found to have no involvement in the alleged violations and was dismissed as a party at the hearing.
The Northland Vote Yes Committee was composed of about 14 people "organized on an ad hoc basis to support approval of a school district bond issue," the document from the administrative law judges indicates. It was formed in mid-September and met once a week through mid-December. Documents say Patsy Bernhjelm and her husband, Bill, were co-chairs of the committee. The committee endorsed Bill Bernhjelm as a write-in candidate.
At issue was whether the committee failed to prominently include the name and address of the person or committee distributing or preparing the campaign material.
The ruling notes that campaign material linked to Jo Boblett and Patsy Bernhjelm amounted to "a technical violation of the disclaimer statute" because it failed to include an address for the Vote Yes Committee. Further, Doro handed one of the fliers as well as a card with a write-in candidate's name on it to a teacher and "therefore technically violated the statute."
What the Dispatch story this week failed to report from the court document was that "the panel views these violations as strictly de minimus (meaning they don't even rise up to the misdemeanor level). In a small town the identity of persons involved in an effort such as this would not be difficult to determine. The name of the committee was included and the failure to include the address was clearly inadvertent and not intentional. The committee corrected the violation on a later flier.
"The respondents were simply unaware of this requirement. Similar newspaper ads were published prior to the election without addresses of committees."
Lilyquist lost the election. She apparently filed the suit with the contention that the write-in votes cost her the election, the ruling from the panel of judges states. The judges said that they could find no connection "between the failure to include an address on campaign literature and the outcome of the election."
The Dispatch story this week failed to include the judges' comment that the panel is required by the election statute to choose one of the dispositions. They noted what they called a technical violation, since they were forced by the law to make a finding one way or the other.
But the judges said it would have been inappropriate to assess a civil penalty. So, instead, they issued a reprimand.
The judges noted that the Vote Yes Committee members were "engaged in a good faith effort in a small school district without the benefit of advice on election laws. The reprimands should not be viewed as anything more than an acknowledgment of a technical violation, especially in the case of Superintendent Doro, who was not involved in the preparation of the materials and passed along one flier."
The ruling indicates regret that one of the defendants, Gross, had to incur the expense of traveling from Remer to Minneapolis for the hearing. The judges feel Gross had no connection with the matter other than Lilyquist apparently felt Gross opposed her candidacy. While Gross was represented on a pro bono basis by a Minneapolis attorney, the judges said they would have awarded her attorney fees.
At that point in the document, the judges said: "Compliance with the disclaimer statute could have been obtained in a much simpler manner by notifying the respondents of their oversight, since they were willing to comply." That part of the ruling was not reported in this week's story.
In the school board election for the four open seats, the elected were Michael D. Knapp, 1,422 votes; Tim Murphy, 1,399; Terry Gross, 1,211; and Ross Hogate, 1,077. Timothy Kunnari received 1,027 votes and Lilyquist had 1,021 votes. There were 323 write-in votes.
The Vote Yes Committee endorsed Gross, Hogate and Bill Bernhjelm.
Tom Fitzpatrick, Brainerd attorney, represented Doro in the case.
ROY MILLER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5855.
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