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Hammond mayoral dispute heads to Indiana Court of Appeals

George Janiec is taking his fight to get put back on the Republican primary ballot for Hammond mayor to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

At a brief hearing Thursday, Janiec’s attorney, Cordell Funk, said his client is appealing a ruling issued by Lake County Superior Court Judge Jesse Villalpando Jr. That ruling has kept Janiec’s name off of ballots issued for the start of early voting April 4. It is too late for Janiec to be on those ballots, but Funk said Janiec hopes to appear on ballots for election day polling on May 3.

“Obviously, not being on for any part is a problem,” Funk said.  “But we think given that it’s a primary, those that support Janiec, knowing that he’s appealing and trying to get on the ballot, will hold off voting and won’t run in and vote for somebody else.”

Funk said Janiec’s appeal could be taken up by the Indiana Supreme Court.

“We may ask the Supreme Court to remove it from the Appeals Court and hear it without getting an Appellate Court ruling,” Funk said. “We’re weighing that option. There is a procedure to do that. We’re also weighing the timelines of what would happen or not happen. So, we have to think about that Saturday and Sunday while we’re putting stuff together.”

Villalpando upheld an early March ruling from the Lake County Election and Voters Registration Board that removed Janiec’s name from the primary ballot.
Janiec’s candidacy was challenged by a Hammond resident. The basis of the challenge was that Janiec could not run because he is a member of the city’s nonpartisan school board, which prohibits members from engaging in political activity.

Villalpando ruled Wednesday that if Janiec wants to run for mayor, he must first resign his school board post.

Janiec's lawyer contends Indiana law does not prohibit school board members from running in partisan elections.

But election board attorney Jim Wieser said Janiec got it wrong.

“In Hammond, (school board) policy specifically says that you must be nonpartisan and you cannot be engaged at all, in any way shape or form, in partisan politics,” Wieser said. “I think if you’re someone who holds himself out to say ‘I’m nonpartisan. I’m going to only represent the schools’ interest’ and then spends eight months of the year running for a partisan mayor’s office is probably not fulfilling his oath of office.”

There are, however, current school board members in neighboring communities who are running for partisan offices. The county’s election board did not remove those candidates in those races.

Wieser said that’s because those candidates did not face challenges, and it’s unknown if those school districts prohibit members from engaging in partisan politics.

“In the judge’s order, (Villalpando) was very careful to say that this order applies only to this specific and unique set of circumstances,” Wieser said.
Four years ago, Janiec narrowly lost the general election to Hammond’s Democratic incumbent  Mayor Tom McDermott Jr., who is also the head of the county’s Democratic Party.

Janiec, said the fight over his access to the ballot is now out of his hands.

“I have never been through this nor do I know of anybody who has been through this,” Janiec said. “I leave it in my attorneys’ skillful hands in maneuvering through this judicial maze.”

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