Election board hires attorney to represent them in candidate lawsuit

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Bartholomew County Democratic Party Chairman Ross Thomas addresses members of the Bartholomew Election Board during a hearing about his challenge of Republican Joseph Jay Foyst’s candidacy for Columbus City Council District 6 in the Bartholomew County Clerk’s Office at the Bartholomew County Courthouse in Columbus, Ind., Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. Thomas’s challenge asserted that the Bartholomew County Republican Party had not filed the paperwork for Foyst’s candidacy on time. The board upheld the challenge and Foyst will be removed from the ballot.

COLUMBUS, Ind. — The Bartholomew County Election board on Thursday voted to retain Columbus attorney Peter King to represent the board in litigation over a Columbus City Council candidate’s eligibility.

King will defend the board against a lawsuit brought by county Democratic Party Chairman Ross Thomas, who sued in an attempt to remove Republican City Council District 6 nominee Joseph Jay Foyst from the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

Thomas did not attend Thursday’s meeting where King was retained. Thomas’ suit names Foyst as well as members of the election board as defendants.

Bartholomew Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin recused herself from the lawsuit Sept. 7, citing conflict of interest. Her order gave parties in the litigation seven days to agree on a special judge, after which Lentz would make that appointment. Lentz, a Republican, also is the election board secretary.

King said Thursday he hoped to work with Thomas to reach an agreement on a special judge.

After no Republican candidate filed to run in the May primary for the new council District 6, the party held a caucus and chose to nominate Foyst, 60. However, after Foyst and the party failed to file required candidate forms by a statutory deadline, Thomas successfully challenged his candidacy and the election board removed Foyst’s name from the ballot.

While the election board upheld this challenge, there is a section of Indiana Code that allowed the GOP to fill the subsequent vacancy within 30 days, Lentz said in a previous interview.

The Bartholomew County Republican Party then held another caucus for District 6 on Aug. 29, and Foyst was once again selected to fill the vacancy.

Thomas again attempted to challenge Foyst’s candidacy, arguing that Foyst and Republicans lacked authority in law to remedy his earlier removal from the ballot. After the board chose not to hear Thomas’ second challenge, he sued.

Thomas and the Democratic Party seek a declaratory judgment that Foyst is ineligible to appear as a candidate on the general election ballot, as well as an injunction prohibiting Foyst from appearing on the ballot and directing the election board to remove his name from the ballot.

City council’s District 6 was recently created due to the city’s decision to adopt second-class status. The district includes portions of central and north Columbus. The Democratic candidate for District 6 is Bryan Muñoz, who ran unopposed for his party’s District 6 nomination in the primary.

In addition to the new District 6 seat, city voters in November also will elect three at-large members instead of the current two, bringing the total number of city council members up from seven to nine.

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 7, and the deadline for voter registration is Oct. 10. According to indianavoters.in.gov, early in-person voting will begin on Oct. 16 in Columbus.