TWIN FALLS – Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker today rejected a bid from embattled former Idaho GOP Chairman Barry Peterson to hold onto the chairmanship by blocking a state central committee meeting scheduled for Saturday to choose new leaders.
“His term has expired,” Stoker told the court.
The judge’s ruling came after extensive arguments that lasted for more than two hours in court this morning in Twin Falls.
“This is not a question of this court taking any position with regard to what the Republican Party should do in this state,” Stoker said. “I have no dog in this fight, so to speak.”
Peterson sued two GOP officials after they called the Aug. 2 central committee meeting, asking the court to block the meeting and rule that he was still the state party chairman. The state chairman normally is elected at the state party convention, but the party’s tumultuous and sharply divided convention in Moscow last month ended in disarray without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform.
Peterson argued that by adjourning without voting on leaders, the convention delegates were choosing to keep him on for another two years. Convention Chairman Raul Labrador said as much before the adjournment, after conferring with parliamentarian Cornel Rasor. But Rasor later said publicly that he erred, and “inadvertently misread the rules.”
“That was the error the chairman made, that was the error the parliamentarian made,” the judge said. “And frankly that was the reason why Mr. Peterson and the rest of the officers just weren’t elected.”
Under Robert’s Rules of Order, Stoker said, the chair’s reply to an inquiry is not binding – it is merely an opinion. “It was not part of the motion – it was not voted upon by the delegates,” the judge said. “It couldn’t have constituted an election of officers because that was required by secret ballot of the delegates in the convention.”
Stoker said of the delegates at the convention: “Maybe they thought they were voting to continue the officers. Maybe they were voting to take an early break because they’d had enough. … Who knows? … There is no possible way I can make that decision. It’s pure speculation. “
Under parliamentary rules, business left undone at the time of adjournment “falls to the ground,” the judge said. “It’s a dead issue.”
Peterson said he accepts the judge’s ruling, and won’t run when the party picks its new chairman on Aug. 2.
“I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last week on this case,” Stoker told a full courtroom, saying he felt compelled to rule right away because the Saturday meeting date is coming right up.
Christ Troupis, attorney for Peterson and six of his supporters, argued that a subsequent party rules committee meeting upheld his interpretation that the convention’s adjournment extended his term as chairman.
But Timothy Hopkins, attorney for the two GOP officials Peterson sued, said Peterson “stacked” that committee with new members in violation of state party rules. “It was politics at its worst,” Hopkins said.
Stoker said whether or not the rules committee was properly constituted, anything it decides is merely a recommendation to the party.
The judge agreed with Peterson that a party executive committee meeting was called with insufficient notice, but said the Aug. 2 central committee meeting is valid because it was specifically called for in a petition from central committee members.
“You are a party without direction, it’s pretty clear,” the judge said. “We have the political maneuvering here as to whether we meet on the 9th or the 2nd. And the objective of the rules is to put in place a mechanism for party officials who have the authority to elect their officers, and there is no question in my mind, that that rests with the central committee.”