Supremes nix Mudge appeal

The High Court in Majuro.

GIFF JOHNSON
Nearly four years after the 2015 election, the RMI Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in former Mayor Mudge Samuel’s lawsuit attempting to overturn Ladie Jack’s election victory.

The Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s decision, which confirmed the correctness of Jack’s election. The Supreme Court panel said the High Court’s ruling “leaves Samuel without any possible relief.”

The ruling also addressed former Chief Electoral Officer Robson Almen’s “failure to complete the process mandated by the Elections and Referenda Act before certifying Jack’s election.” The Supreme Court also took issue with the High Court’s interpretation of the Majuro Atoll Local Government constitution. But none of these issues gave Samuel leverage for a positive outcome to his lawsuit, the judges said.The ruling was signed by Chief Justice Daniel Cadra and Associate Justices J. Michael Seabright and Richard Seeborg.
The ruling also addressed the nearly four years it took to resolve Samuel’s lawsuit.
“Ideally, recount procedures should be promptly completed before the new terms is scheduled to begin in order to avoid a situation — like this one — where the election outcome remains in dispute nearly four years later,” the judges wrote.

Although there was no recount in the disputed Majuro mayor race in 2015, the CEO did not issue a written rejection of the petition for recount until ordered by the court some 14 months after the election.“The Elections and Referenda Act’s plain language and context leaves no doubt — the CEO had no discretion to ignore the recount petition or to certify the election results without first responding to the petition, allowing Samuel an adequate time to appeal, and receiving the outcome of that appeal,” the Supreme Court said.
“The CEO’s failure to comply with the law in this matter is extremely troubling,” the judges said. “As the officer responsible for administering the election, the CEO understood or should have understood the basic procedural requirements of the statute he was charged with implementing.”

By failing to follow routine statutory requirements, the CEO “has undermined confidence in the fairness of the electoral process.”Samuel, through his attorney Roy Chikamoto, had filed for a recount after the CEO announced the unofficial final results soon after the November 2015 nations election. But Almen did not formally reply. Responding to a lawsuit from Samuel, in February 2017, High Court Chief Justice Carl Ingram ruled that the CEO must respond to Samuel’s recount petition and remanded the matter to the CEO with an order to respond. Two days later, the CEO issued a letter rejecting the petition recount request.

This resulted in Samuel immediately filing an appeal. In response, the High Court on August 31, 2018 issued a decision finding that the CEO had not made a mistake in rejecting the petition for a recount.

“This decision completed the recount procedures required by the Election and Referenda Act, thereby requiring the CEO to validly certify Jack’s election,” said the Supreme Court. “But, again, the CEO failed to comply with the law and did not re-certify Jack’s election following issuance of the High Court’s August 31, 2018 order.”

Despite this lack of the certification of the election result required by the law, the High Court’s August 31, 2018 order “definitely concluded that a recount was not required and thus, Jack was the duly elected mayor of Majuro Atoll,” said the judges.

“Considering the principles that undergird our election laws — most prominently: fairness, equity, and upholding the will of the people — we conclude that because Jack was unquestionably elected as mayor, there is no basis whatsoever for removing Jack from that office and reinstating Samuel. As such, Samuel is left without any possible relief.”

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