Since political happy endings are such a rarity these days, even temporary ones, let’s get right to that ending. On Tuesday evening, Campton Hills trustee Tim Morgan appropriately took his seat on the dais with his fellow village board members. As previously noted, the legal fat lady hasn’t sung quite yet, but for now, Tim gets to serve the constituents who duly elected him.
That propitious turn of events was made possible by the courtroom artistry of Klein, Stoddard, Buck, and Lewis attorney, Jeff Meyer. Having directly observed the arguments, I have to admit it was a joy to watch Jeff work.
As we briefly touched on on Tuesday, the issue at hand was a temporary restraining order (TRO) sought by Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser’s office to bar Morgan from taking his seat until her quo warranto challenge could be adequately adjudicated.
Again, a quo warranto is a proceeding by which a judge determines an elected official’s eligibility for office. Here’s how Jeff prevailed:
1. There was no emergency
As you might imagine, the critical element in obtaining an emergency court order is, well, proving there’s an emergency! Makes sense, right? Jeff argued that, while it may have been an emergency back in early April when the election results were certified, it certainly wasn’t one two months after the fact.
The State countered with the contention that preventing Morgan from voting on village business constituted an emergency, but Judge Kevin Busch wasn’t buying that one. Really? Is there some sort of precedent for former felons going off the rails with bizarre votes and motions once they’re seated on a city council?
When Jeff won the opening round, it was all over but the shouting because you’re not going to get an emergency TRO when there’s no emergency. But Judge Busch was clearly interested in hearing more of the defense’s argument, so the hearing went forward.
2. TRO’s are applied to maintain the status quo, not usurp it
This is another basic but crucial legal theory. If you’ve paid attention to TRO’s in the media, you’ve likely noted their singular intent is to forestall change until the court can further address the issue at hand. But the State was trying to change the status quo by removing Morgan from the board on which he was already serving.
The prosecutors didn’t have much of a counterargument for this one and Jeff easily won round two.
3. The relief sought by the TRO was the same relief requested in their underlying complaint
The TRO asked the judge to remove Morgan from the board which was the same remedy sought in their complaint. And that kind of horse before the cart putting would subvert the jurisprudence system.
In other words, the State was attempting to preempt the status quo by barring Morgan from serving so they could subsequently bar him from serving. I’m a little surprised the ASAs tried that legal end run in front of Judge Busch, because anyone who’s ever been in his courtroom knows he has very little patience for those shenanigans.
So, round three went to Mr. Meyer, too.
4. The State wouldn’t likely prevail
Let’s say the State was able to overcome all of the hurdles we’ve already discussed. The TRO would still have to pass a final test before it’s granted. To wit, the plaintiff must be able to demonstrate their complaint has enough merit to ultimately be upheld. In other words, you can’t come into court as a 20-to-1 longshot and hope for the best. You have to prove you’re the clear favorite before anything will move forward in your favor.
It certainly isn’t a beyond any and all reasonable doubt standard, but the KCSAO had to prove they were more likely to succeed than not. The State disingenuously argued that Illinois law fully supported their complaint, but whether a felon can be “restored to citizenship” and serve on a local governing body is, at best, unsettled law.
Jeff countered by presenting a Michigan (were the felony occurred) law that appears to automatically absolve Class 2 felons after 10 years of good behavior. Judge Busch asked Meyer if the conviction was “set aside or expunged” to which he replied he wasn’t sure, but it’s a “distinction without a difference.”
Aside from Mosser’s obvious conflict throughout her bizarre quest for “justice,” this case will ultimately hinge on Judge Busch’s interpretation of that Michigan statute. But it’s mere existence created enough doubt to put the hawthorn stake through the heart of the State’s motion.
That meant game, set, and match went to Jeff Meyer pending the next status hearing in front of Judge Busch in late June.
I have to say I left the courtroom confused about why the KCASO even bothered with this doomed-to-fail emergency TRO attempt. It really frosts my flakes because your average municipal elected official can’t afford to rack up these kinds of legal fees. Had that been the case here, the KCSAO would’ve won by default and that ain’t justice in any way shape or form.
Ah! But what was more surprising than the State getting trounced in this convincing manner is, for the first time in three years, State’s Attorney Mosser actually picked up the phone when I called her. She claims she’s always been willing to respond, but my experience has indicated otherwise. We had a lengthy conversation, but for all the obvious reasons, her only official comment was that her office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Despite that conversation, I’m still confused about how a state’s attorney, who has a reputation for putting rehabilitation at the top of her list, suddenly believes a 20-year-old felony on the part of a lowly village trustee is worthy of her full and undivided attention – particularly after she openly supported Tim’s opponents.
Though she still won’t be able to comment publicly, we did make plans to meet face-to-face in the near future.
I also would like to add that, when he behaves, watching Judge Busch correctly apply the law is a magical thing. I rarely disagree with his rulings.
But hey! Sometimes it’s the small victories that matter and seeing Tim take his Tuesday night board seat warmed the cockles of this curmudgeonly journalist’s heart. There’s far more to come, but considering Judge Busch’s reaction to Jeff’s prima facie arguments, I think Tim will be just fine.