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Judge Dismisses Fiske’s Longtime Election Lawsuit

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By Matt PresserThe Daily Northwestern

A federal judge last month dismissed a lawsuit against Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st), Northwestern University, and certain city officials, alleging they engaged in a “vote-buying scheme” designed to help Wollin win an April 2005 municipal election.

The lawsuit, filed by failed First Ward aldermanic candidate Judy Fiske, claimed the defendants conspired to help Wollin win the election by offering priority housing assignments and free admission to a party.

The case was originally filed in May 2005, and the state Circuit Court ruled the Evanston City Council should judge the electoral dispute. When the council heard the case last October, six aldermen excused themselves from the case, citing fears of a conflict of interest and creating a lack of a quorum to issue a judgment.

The most recent decision, made by U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall on Aug. 21, said federal courts had no jurisdiction in the matter.

After a year-and-a-half of fighting with the legal system, Fiske said she just wants for a court to hear the merits of the case.

“The choice that we have now is either to go to the Circuit Court and say, ‘What do we do now?'” Fiske said. “Or we always have the choice of dropping the suit.”

Fiske said NU’s administration “tainted that pool of voters” who voted on NU’s campus by offering incentives for students to vote.

“We’re trying to protect the integrity of everyone’s vote,” she said. “When you taint that huge number of votes, and you’re actually purchasing those votes, that’s against the law. And it shouldn’t be done.”

The First Ward includes all NU dormitories west of Sheridan Road, except Jones Residential College and 1835 Hinman.

Fiske’s lawyer Richard Means, Law ’68, told the DAILY last May he was asking the judge to throw out the students’ ballots, saying that their voter registration and voting were purchased.

Fiske claimed that if those votes were thrown out then, with 56 percent of the vote, she would be named alderman.

Wollin, who won the election by 81 votes, said she never felt the case had any merit.

“It’s certainly a relief to have it dismissed by a federal judge,” she said. “So I’m hoping this is the end of it.”

Fiske said she is still deciding whether to move forward.

“We just want the vote, whatever the vote is going to be, to be honest,” she said. “No court has heard the merits of the case. We’ve got a little bit of time to figure out what it is we’re going to do.”

Communication junior Diana Theobald was one of more than 200 NU students living on South Campus who were named in the lawsuit.

“Mostly the case irritated me because throughout the election (Fiske) claimed that she would support the students she would represent,” Theobald said. “But this case only proved that she would have quickly turned against us if it had suited her agenda.”

Fiske maintains that her lawsuit is “not personal against Northwestern students” and that she just wants all votes to be counted fairly.

“There will be more happening, I think,” Fiske said, “in the next week or so.”

Reach Matt Presser at m-presser@northwestern.edu.

Lawsuit Timeline-March 7, 2005 Volunteers register students to vote at a fireside in Shepard Residential College. Both candidates attend. Housing points are given to students who are there.-May 19, 2005 Fiske files a suit in the state Circuit Court, alleging that more than 200 student ballots need to be thrown out because NU bribed the students to vote-Late June 2005 The Circuit Court rules the council should judge the electoral dispute.-Oct. 17, 2005 Six Evanston aldermen exclude themselves from deciding on the case. -Jan. 6, 2006 Northwestern University officials file a motion to dismiss Fiske’s lawsuit, accusing the school of favoring Wollin in the April aldermanic elections. -Aug. 21, 2006 U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall dismisses the lawsuit against Wollin, NU and certain city officials, saying federal courts have no jurisdiction in the matter.

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