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Legality of petitions to oust Toledo mayor debated

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    Elections board Chairman Patrick Kriner and Elections Director Linda Howe listen to presentations during the hearing on Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's challenge of petitions for a recall vote. Finkbeiner attorney John Kulewicz claims the petitions lack wording required by the Supreme Court.

    The Blade/Lisa Dutton
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    Finkbeiner attorney John Kulewicz claims the petitions lack wording required by the Supreme Court.

    The Blade/Lisa Dutton
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"During our conversation, we came to no conclusion on how we would resolve this today," Patrick Kriner, chairman of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said after more than an hour considering arguments from both sides yesterday.

Attorneys for the mayor and for Take Back Toledo presented their positions before the board during a quasijudicial session.

John Kulewicz, a lawyer with the Columbus firm Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, hired by the mayor, argued that all of the petitions failed to include a sentence warning petition signers that election falsification is a fifth-degree felony.

He said the Supreme Court has ruled that all petitions on the ballot must have an election falsification statement spelled out in capitalized, bold-faced type that election fraud is a crime.

The warning is not required by the Toledo city charter.

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Finkbeiner attorney John Kulewicz claims the petitions lack wording required by the Supreme Court.

The Blade/Lisa Dutton
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Acting Toledo Law Director Adam Loukx, who was called to testify by Mr. Finkbeiner's attorney, said he would have included the warning.

Take Back Toledo collected 45,500 signatures to meet the required minimum of 19,753 signatures of registered Toledo voters. The elections board validated 20,444 signatures and threw out 19,550, leaving about 5,000 unchecked.

Mr. Kriner said the elections board would review those signatures and allow both sides to scrutinize the signatures.

Mr. Kulewicz also said the law firm found 2,500 bad signatures out of the 19,753 deemed valid by the elections board and surmised the rate of invalid signatures would be even higher for the yet-uncounted 5,000 signatures.

"What we found were obvious forgeries [and] dates that were changed," Mr. Kulewicz said. "There are numerous examples of two signatures that to the naked eye appear to be the same handwriting." He added: "This is exactly the type of evil, of ill effects, the falsification warning is meant to discourage."

Scott Ciolek, attorney for Take Back Toledo, contended the petitions were not required to have the warning and asked the elections board to apply the "more applicable" city charter.

"I think the real question here is, 'Are there 19,750 people who want to have a recall election?'•" he said.

Mr. Ciolek said the group had circulators sign an affidavit, under threat of perjury, that the signatures were genuine. "No one raised any objections until they were already submitted," Mr. Ciolek said after the hearing.

He also argued the petitions were valid without the warning since Clerk of City Council Gerald Dendinger provided Take Back Toledo with a sample petition to start the recall process that did not include the sentence.

Also in question is if the recall question would appear on the Sept. 15 ballot or the Nov. 3 ballot.

The election board will reconvene its hearing on the mayor's challenge at 10 a.m. June 9.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the wait doesn't concern him and the possibility of voters casting ballots to remove him from office is not a distraction from the serious challenge of balancing the city's general fund - still $15 million short for the year.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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