Special judge chosen in candidacy lawsuit, election board seeks extension

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Republican Joseph Jay Foyst speaks at a hearing over a challenge to his 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.

Parties in a lawsuit regarding a Columbus City Council candidate’s eligibility have agreed on a special judge.

Democratic Party Chairman Ross Thomas said that he and the defendants have agreed to ask Senior Judge K. Mark Loyd to preside over the case, since Bartholomew Circuit Judge Kelly Benjamin has recused herself. The agreed motion of appointment for a special judge was filed on Friday, and Thomas said it is up to Loyd to decide whether or not he will accept the case. Loyd presides over Franklin City Court.

“I think he’s a fine choice, and I just want to get the thing moving along,” said Thomas, who is suing Republican District 6 candidate Joseph Jay Foyst and the Bartholomew County Election Board in an effort to remove Foyst from the Nov. 7 general election ballot.

However, the election board filed a motion for enlargement of time on Friday. Thomas explained that this means they are seeking more time to answer his initial complaint. He finds this “disappointing” and has filed an objection.

“If Mr. Foyst was not a valid candidate, he’s never going to be a valid candidate,” Thomas said. “… Their delay tactics won’t work.”

After no Republican candidate filed to run in the May primary for the new council District 6, the party held a caucus in July and chose to nominate Foyst.

Thomas filed his first challenge against Foyst on July 26, arguing that his candidacy was invalid because the Republican party had failed to file its notice for the July caucus with the clerk’s office by the required deadline.

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, Bartholomew County Circuit Court Clerk Shari Lentz said in a previous interview.

The Bartholomew County Republican Party 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 Lentz did not accept his filing, he filed the lawsuit.

In addition to Foyst, Thomas named all three members of the election board in his suit, stating that he did so because their presence was necessary to issue the relief sought.

The pending legal fight over Foyst’s candidacy began on Sept. 6, just over a month before the start of early voting, and its outcome could determine which party wins the new District 6 seat. Should Thomas’ lawsuit prevail, Democratic nominee, Bryan Munoz, would run unopposed in the general election.

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.