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Appellate court rules Thomas has no ‘ascertainable right’ to hold Peoria County auditor's office

Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas speaks at a veteran's memorial event at the Peoria County Courthouse in this Oct. 2020 file photo.
Tim Shelley
Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas speaks at a veteran's memorial event at the Peoria County Courthouse in this Oct. 2020 file photo.

An opinion released Thursday by three 4th District appellate court judges finds Peoria County Auditor Jessica Thomas has no “ascertainable right” to the rest of her elected term.

The decision comes after voters overwhelmingly chose to eliminate the office in a November referendum.

The judgment from Springfield-based Justice Kathryn Zenoff, with concurring opinions from Justices Peter Cavanagh and Robert Steigmann, says Thomas lost any rights to the office after the referendum passed and finds the language of the referendum valid.

Thomas’ attorneys argued the referendum’s language was vague and didn’t include “temporal” language, or a specification of exactly when the auditor’s office would be eliminated if the measure successfully passed. For this reason, they contend Thomas should have continued to serve through the end of her term in 2024.

But the appellate court’s decision denies any issue with the referendum language.

“We conclude that, when read in its entirety, the referendum is sufficiently clear that it invoked the voters’ constitutional ability under section 4(c) to eliminate a county office prior to the expiration of plaintiff’s four-year term,” the opinion reads. “The referendum asked whether voters wished to ‘eliminate’ the office without qualification.”

Additionally, this decision remands the rulings of Peoria County trial court Judge James Mack, who granted a preliminary injunction last year requiring the county to continue funding the auditor’s office, pending the decision of the appellate court.

The appellate court decision says Thomas had no adequate standing for such an injunction.

These decisions are the latest ina long string of legal challenges, following a 2021 county vote to make Thomas the sole employee of the auditor’s office after a similar referendum to eliminate it narrowly failed in 2018.

It remains to be seen how the case will resolve itself after it returns to Peoria County.

In December 2022, Lisa Meador, the attorney representing Peoria County, said the county planned to sue Thomas for reimbursement if the appellate court overturned the injunction.

Jessica Thomas is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.