Sauerbrey election suit trial opens

January 10, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers

In a courtroom packed with supporters, the lead lawyer for Ellen R. Sauerbrey yesterday called the November gubernatorial election a process that failed as he opened the Republican's unprecedented court battle to overturn the results.

Attorney John M. Carbone zeroed in on bureaucratic oversights rather than Mrs. Sauerbrey's more provocative charges of voter fraud as he attempted to show that the 5,993-vote victory of Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening should be nullified.

Mr. Carbone did not even mention the "dead" or incarcerated voters that were included in Mrs. Sauerbrey's lawsuit filed Dec. 27, but dwelled instead on the failure of election officials to purge from the rolls thousands of voters who technically should not have been allowed to cast ballots.

"Allowing those people to vote diluted other voters," Mr. Carbone said. "What this ultimately has done is create doubt about the reliability of the numbers. . . . We found significant errors -- errors that suggest the process failed."

He added, "This case is not about politics. It's about people . . . who want nothing less than what the Constitution calls for. They want nothing less than a pure election."

Glendening attorney Bruce L. Marcus fired back, telling the judge that Mrs. Sauerbrey's case was about disenfranchising voters.

"I'm not sure which people [Mr. Carbone] thinks he's representing," Mr. Marcus said.

During a break, Mr. Marcus noted with derision that Mr. Carbone had even referred to Baltimore City voters who should have been purged from the voting lists as "dead wood."

Mr. Marcus labeled Mrs. Sauerbrey's allegations "the incredible shrinking case," noting that all of her claims had dwindled after Glendening attorneys demanded proof.

He noted, for example, that the 4,774 votes allegedly cast in the names of prisoners was down to only 44 as the trial began.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who spent the day taking notes on a personal computer, made it clear that the trial will end by Friday. The schedule appeared to be aimed at allowing a decision before Jan. 18, when Mr. Glendening is scheduled to be inaugurated.

In the crammed courtroom, Mrs. Sauerbrey sat in the first row behind her attorneys, flanked by her husband, Wilmer, and her running mate, Paul H. Rappaport. Mr. Glendening was not present. The day was spent in brief opening arguments by attorneys and questioning of the chief election officials in the only three jurisdictions that Mr. Glendening carried in the Nov. 8 election.

The courtroom thinned out as the day wore on. Even Mrs. Sauerbrey left with an hour still to go. "It's like watching paint dry," she told reporters as she left the courthouse.

Baltimore election chief Barbara Jackson testified that she failed to purge city rolls of tens of thousands of people who technically were not eligible to vote in 1994 because they had not voted in the preceding five years. Of those, some 3,000 actually voted, she said.

"I realized I goofed," she said, explaining that she forgot to arrange for one purge of city lists and later ran out of time to complete another before Election Day. "I made an error," she said.

Glendening attorneys have minimized the impact of allowing technically ineligible voters to cast ballots.

Mrs. Sauerbrey issued a statement at the end of the day that addressed the reduction in the size of her allegations.

"The number of questionable votes that were cast in the November election has always been subject to change," she said. "However, over the next several days as our evidence is presented in court, the citizens of Maryland will see a distinct pattern of voting irregularities."

Outside of court, the Glendening forces have been busily investigating the latest Sauerbrey claims. They have hired, for example, a former chief investigator for the U.S. Senate Iran-contra inquiry to locate some of the thousands of voters who allegedly moved but failed to change their address with election officials as required by law.

Investigators have found that nearly all of about 45 voters they have contacted never actually changed their place of residence, but instead had mail forwarded because, for example, they were going to college or on vacation, according to Glendening lawyers.

Investigators were also researching the latest of Mrs. Sauerbrey's list of dead people in whose names votes were allegedly cast. An earlier list of 37 such voters included many people who were actually alive, some of whom had even voted for Mrs. Sauerbrey.

The most recent list also appeared to have flaws.

One voter on the list, Daniel Joshua Leach of Montgomery County, died on Election Day, Nov. 8, but mailed in an absentee ballot before then, according to his 78-year-old widow, Ethel Leach.

"When he did vote, he was certainly alive," she said.

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