Sauerbrey lawyers seek to withdraw from Monday case

January 07, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

A simmering dispute burst into the open yesterday when the lawyers leading Ellen R. Sauerbrey's election challenge asked a judge to let them withdraw from the case -- which is scheduled for trial Monday.

Attorneys Lee T. Ellis Jr. and Richard J. Leon of the Washington-based firm of Baker & Hostetler called the judge hearing the case to make their request after failing to show up for scheduled depositions at a Baltimore law firm yesterday.

In a statement issued last night, the Sauerbrey camp said: "It has become increasingly clear since we engaged the firm of Baker & Hostetler that their approach to the litigation of our election challenge was at great variance with the approach of . . . Ellen Sauerbrey."

Mrs. Sauerbrey said she had hired new attorneys and vowed to present a "strong case" starting Monday.

But the change of lawyers threatened to disrupt Mrs. Sauerbrey's intense, two-month inquiry into her 5,993-vote loss to Democratic Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening. Mrs. Sauerbrey filed suit last week seeking to overturn Mr. Glendening's victory, which she alleged was tainted by voting irregularities and possible fraud.

There were other signs of trouble in the Sauerbrey organization yesterday, starting with its release of a strongly worded statement -- apparently inaccurate -- claiming a major concession from the state attorney general's office.

The release claimed that state lawyers had "conceded and stipulated" during a deposition Thursday night that 1,816 Baltimore voters should have their votes "invalidated" -- and subtracted from Mr. Glendening's margin of victory -- because they had not cast ballots in the preceding five years.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph Tyler agreed that the Baltimore election office had produced a list of 1,816 such voters. But he categorically disputed the Sauerbrey assertion that the figure should be deducted from Mr. Glendening's total.

"We vigorously oppose and will oppose any effort to disenfranchise those voters," Mr. Tyler said. "We do not agree that those are illegal votes."

The release by Sauerbrey representatives did not say why they believed those votes should be deducted from Mr. Glendening when there is no way to know for which candidate any ballot is cast.

Meanwhile, Sauerbrey aides backed away from an allegation made in the lawsuit that 37 votes were cast in the names of dead people, saying they now believe they can confirm 16 or 17 such votes.

They conceded, however, that while the names of the deceased people had been checked off on voter lists at the polling places, the investigation had not turned up any authority card actually signed in the dead people's names -- making it uncertain whether any votes actually were cast in those names.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who is handling the unprecedented statewide electoral challenge, is scheduled to hear motions on the change of lawyers at a 9 a.m. hearing in his Annapolis courtroom today.

In last night's statement, Mrs. Sauerbrey indicated that she was turning over the case to John M. Carbone, a lawyer and election expert from New Jersey who has directed the investigation into possible electoral irregularities. He will be joined by her new attorneys, Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore law professor, and the Annapolis firm of Council, Baradel, Kosmerl and Nolan, the statement said.

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Leon did not return phone calls seeking comment. But their decision to leave the Sauerbrey effort was not a surprise to other lawyers in the case.

Glendening attorney Bruce L. Marcus, who has described himself as a friend of Mr. Ellis, said the Baker & Hostetler attorneys were struggling to mold a solid case.

"The problem here is that we have a situation where they may have been given facts which simply don't pass muster," Mr. Marcus said. "They've been put on the spot. "

Joyce Lyons Terhes, Maryland Republican Party chairwoman, said the change in lawyers grew out of philosophical and personality differences between Mr. Carbone and the attorneys from Baker & Hostetler.

"He [Mr. Carbone] is aggressive, tough and hard-hitting," compared with the more staid Mr. Ellis and Mr. Leon, Ms. Terhes said. "I don't think they got along from the beginning."

Other sources said some Sauerbrey representatives were angry at Mr. Ellis' admissions last week that their investigators had turned up no evidence of organized fraud, a revelation that later became public.

Mr. Tyler, who is representing various state election officials in the lawsuit, said he believed that on the Sauerbrey side, "there was a difference of view in how to proceed with the case. They clearly have got some internal problems they're seeking to resolve."

One unresolved issue remained the number of "dead" voters to be presented. At least four of the 37 people included on a list prepared last week when the suit was filed were far from deceased yesterday.

"I'm very much alive and I voted," said Jerome B. Sanner, an 81-year-old resident of the Tuscany-Canterbury area of Baltimore.

Mr. Sanner told the Washington Post, which disclosed some of the names of the alleged "dead" voters yesterday, that he voted for Mrs. Sauerbrey.

Another name on the list was Patrick Romano, 89, who said Mrs. Sauerbrey's investigators were probably thrown off by a foul-up when his wife died two years ago. Social Security mistakenly thought he was dead and took two months to correct the problem, said Mr. Romano, a resident of Northeast Baltimore.

Evelyn Strumwater, 78, of northwest Baltimore, and Mary Apicella, 67, a restaurant employee in Little Italy, also were wrongly listed.

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