VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — A Judge in Vigo County has found that the winner of a seat on the Vigo County School Board from November’s election was ineligible for the seat due to residency requirements in Indiana law.
The petition to declare Eric Graves as not eligible to be elected to the school board District 1 seat and declare the only other candidate in the race, Carey Labella, the winner was granted following a bench trial Monday in Vigo County Circuit Court.
According to court documents, Judge Matthew L. Headley found that Graves filed while living at a residency located in the neighboring Lost Creek area, which is geographically part of District 4.
“Graves did not live in District 1 for the required year before the election, as he lived at 41 Timberlane Turn, Terre Haute, which is in school board District 4. For Graves, or anyone, to be an eligible candidate, he/she would have had to live in this district at least 365 days prior to the election,” said Headley. Emphasis added by the judge.
While the court admitted that Graves now lives within District 1, the prior residency became the deciding issue.
“The Indiana legislation made an additional requirement of prior residency, not present residency for school board’s members,” Headley wrote. “This court must follow the written law unless clearly unconstitutional, which this law is not (or at least so challenged).”
Graves, representing himself in court, argued that the court should follow the rules regarding a current school board member changing residency during their term, which the state grants the ability to continue to serve until the end of their term. However, the judge responded “The key difference in that case and in the instance, the person was already on the board. Graves has never been duly sworn-in to the board prior to this dispute. Furthermore, in such a case, the moving school board member, he/she would not be able to be a candidate in that district at the next election due to the change in his/her residency,” Headley said.
In conclusion, the judge granted Labella’s petition to declare Graves can not be legally sworn in as a Vigo County School Board Member, District 1 representative. The judge further stated that “since Labella was the only other candidate, and she lives in District 1, she is, by default, declared the winner, and shall assume the position of school board member District 1, Vigo County School Corporation.”
Speaking after being sworn in before the school board meeting Monday, LaBella said she was happy to have the situation behind her.
“I’m just very excited to get to the work and to making a difference and not necessarily having to deal with the legalities of the election. I’m very thankful that that part is over,” she said.