Former Homer City Council member Tom Stroozas. (Photo courtesy Tom Stroozas)

Former Homer City Council member Tom Stroozas. (Photo courtesy Tom Stroozas)

Lawsuit filed over city election is dismissed

Parties in the case against the city of Homer filed by a former council member over the Oct. 1 election have moved to dismiss it from court, and the judge has granted that order.

Attorneys for former council member Tom Stroozas and for the city of Homer filed a joint motion on Tuesday moving to have the case dismissed with prejudice. “With prejudice” means the plaintiff cannot bring the same case back to court again.

A status hearing for the case was scheduled for Thursday. Keri-Ann Baker, one of the attorneys representing Stroozas, said the parties expect that hearing to be canceled.

The join motion filed to have the case dismissed states that each side will bear its own court costs and attorney fees. The order to dismiss the case was approved Wednesday by Judge Josie Garton.

Stroozas filed the case in Alaska Superior Court last month to contest the results of Homer’s Oct. 1 municipal election. The case argued that Storm Hansen-Cavasos, a newly elected council member, had violated candidate requirements by not living within city limits for a full year before the election.

Stroozas first contested the election at the local city level. An investigation was done by the city manager with help from the city clerk and city attorney. The city council (excluding Hansen-Cavasos) reviewed the investigation’s findings and voted 4-1, with council member Heath Smith opposed, to uphold Hansen-Cavasos’ election to the body.

On Dec. 9, Garton denied a motion lawyers for Stroozas made seeking an injunction against Hansen-Cavasos to keep her from participating as a city council member while the case was ongoing.

In a supplemental order explaining her decision, Garton wrote that Stroozas failed to establish that city voters would be harmed by Hansen-Cavasos continuing to serve on the council.

“It is undisputed that Hansen-Cavasos signed a voter registration in April 2019 that claimed an address outside the City,” Garton wrote in her supplemental order. “This evidence supports Stroozas’s contention that Hansen-Cavasos was not a resident of Homer as late as April 2019. But Stroozas has not argued that the Clerk or the Council erred in failing to adequately weigh Hansen-Cavasos’s April 2019 voter registration or that the Clerk should have given less weight to the other evidence of Hansen’s residence in the City, or more weight to the evidence that Hansen-Cavasos resided outside the City during the year preceding her election. Instead, Stroozas has argued that the Clerk was bound, as a matter of law, by the date of Hansen-Cavasos’s voter registration in determining the duration of her residence in Homer and could not consider any other evidence of her residence. As a matter of statutory interpretation this is not correct, and Stoozas has therefore failed to demonstrate a clear probability of success of the merits.”

Garton wrote that notifying the city clerk of a change in voting residence does not mean that a person didn’t move until that date.

“To change a residence, a person need only move and possess the requisite intent,” she wrote. “It just means the voter cannot claim the other address for the purpose of voting until the voter has filed the notice. When a person moves and intends to stay, that person has changed residence within the meaning of (state code) and (Homer code), regardless of whether that person has changed their voter registration.”

Hansen-Cavasos gave testimony during the city investigation that, while she did not update her voter registration address until August 2019, she had moved into city limits in the summer of 2018, more than a year before her election.

“The day she became a resident of the City depends on when she moved and had the requisite intent,” Garton wrote in her supplemental order. “That date is not conclusively established by the date of her voter registration.”

Stroozas’s lawsuit had sought to have Hansen-Cavasos’s election voided and to have her replaced by Shelly Erickson, a former council member who also ran in the Oct. 1 election and received the next-highest number of votes.

Cassie Lawver is one of the community members living outside city limits who first started gathering evidence trying to prove Hansen-Cavasos was living outside the city within a year of the election. She previously told the Homer News that people have been donating to a fund set up for the Stroozas lawsuit to help pay for attorney fees and expenses. Donations were sent to the Anchorage firm representing him, Reeves Amodio LLC.

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