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Judge dismisses one lawsuit filed by Peoria County auditor, but leaves door open to refiling later

Tim Shelley
Jessica Thomas' office in the Peoria County Courthouse. A sign on the door says the office is open by appointment only due to budget cuts.

Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas' lawsuit against the Peoria County Election Commission challenging the 2022 referendum that led to the elimination of her office was dismissed without prejudice on Wednesday.

That allows Thomas to refile an amended lawsuit at a later date. The county argued because the election is over, the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice.

They referenceda 4th District appellate court ruling in December against Thomas, who had requested to overturn the trial court's ruling denying her second motion for a preliminary injunction to keep the auditor referendum question off the November ballot.

Peoria County Assistant State's Attorney Jennie Cordis Boswell argued the issues brought up in the original complaint were essentially the same as the injunction arguments the appellate court rejected.

But Thomas' attorney, Justin Penn, said she should be allowed to seek a post-election remedy, adding he hasn't yet had a chance to create a factual record for his arguments. He said dismissing the lawsuit without prejudice would be the "most effective way" to move the "messy" case forward.

Judge Bruce Fehrenbacher said he believes there's still an issue as to whether the case is moot or not. He rejected the county's November motion to dismiss the case with prejudice and moved in favor of Thomas' request.

Thomas still draws a government salary due to a judge's order maintaining the status quo pending the outcome of a separate 2021 lawsuit she's filed against the county.

Thomas' office was closed on Wednesday afternoon. A sign on the door claims the office is only open by appointment due to budget cuts.

For full disclosure, Jessica Thomas is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.