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Judge deems recount case ‘meritless’

Former mayor ordered to pay legal fees

February 20, 2014
By CHUCK?BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Former Cape Coral mayor John Sullivan's request for a recount or an election re-do has been denied.

Judge Alane Laboda filed a ruling Thursday to deny Sullivan and his political co-plaintiffs either in November's mayoral election, adding some sharp remarks to conclude her judgment.

Sullivan also will have to pony up for election victor Marni Sawicki's attorney's fees, which Sawicki said was in the neighborhood of $50,000.

She estimated costs to the city and county at another $80,000.

A hearing will determine allowable costs.

"I'm glad this is over. I felt relief because now we can move forward, the cloud has been lifted," Sawicki said Thursday following release of the decision. "I didn't know what to expect and the unknown was the toughest part. If there had been findings of something not done right it would be unfortunate and it would have raised doubt."

Leigh Fisher, Sullivan's attorney, said he would meet with the Sullivan camp today to determine their next course of action, which could mean an appeal.

"I never like to question a judge's decision, but there are times when you have to appeal," Fisher said, adding he would reserve that decision until he meets with them and that the case was far from frivolous.

"It was a disappointing ruling. We presented a judiciable issue about the manner in which Cape Coral will hold its elections," Fisher said. "Any time a case involves the rights of the people to elected representatives, it's not a frivolous matter."

The plaintiffs claimed there were questions regarding the counting of provisional ballots, that the composition of the canvassing board did not meet state statutes, that the results of the early voting was skewed too much in Sawicki's favor, and that Precinct 57 may not have been open up until the 7 p.m. closing time.

All of these, they alleged, helped sway the outcome of the election.

However, on each count, Laboda ruled that the plaintiffs did not produce any real evidence of any foul play, going as far as to say the case was without merit.

"Plaintiffs know or should have known that the claims raised were meritless, in that the claims were not supported by material fact or by the law as applied to any material fact and the court finds the plaintiffs did not act in good faith," Laboda ruled. "The court finds the defendants to be the prevailing party and that the sanction of awarding attorneys fees to the defendants is appropriate."

"That's the big thing. It sends a clear message. He does not get to use the judicial system in this manner," Sawicki said. "People in the future won't get to put others through this."

Sawicki defeated Sullivan by 121 votes in the Nov. 5 general election. Sullivan and his supporters filed suit against the city's canvassing board shortly thereafter.

Two weeks ago, before the trial, Sullivan and his co-plaintiffs were afforded a look at the absentee, provisional and early ballots, as well as 11 election day precincts.

Despite all that happened, Sawicki felt some sympathy for the former mayor, saying despite all he had done, this is ultimately will be what he's remembered for.

"He wanted to be mayor. He could do a lot for the city. Being in this office four months has given me a new respect for those who do this," Sawicki said. "He did this for four years, and for this to be his legacy is not what I would have hoped for him."



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