Judge rejects vote challenge by Sauerbrey

January 14, 1995|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael James,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

A judge rejected yesterday Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's challenge to the gubernatorial election, saying the procedural problems she uncovered in Baltimore were too minor to justify throwing out the results.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr., who noted that he voted for Mrs. Sauerbrey, said her case was flawed by faulty data and unsupported conclusions.

"There is simply no evidence of any systematic omissions or a pattern of misconduct throughout the state," the judge said in an eight-page decision he read from the bench. "Petitioners have simply failed to meet their burden of proof."

Mrs. Sauerbrey immediately filed an appeal with the Maryland Court of Appeals. Arguments are scheduled for Monday afternoon.

One of her lawyers said a second legal challenge in U.S. District Court in Baltimore is likely. The Sauerbrey camp is also considering asking a court to postpone Wednesday's scheduled inauguration of Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening, a Sauerbrey lawyer said.

"This is the end of Round One," Mrs. Sauerbrey said after the ruling. "I believe today as strongly as I did a month ago that there were serious problems with this election."

Standing on the State House steps, where he is to give his inaugural address Wednesday, Mr. Glendening applauded the judge's ruling and said he had "absolutely never" doubted the outcome of her challenge.

"I thought the case was ludicrous or ridiculous at best and had no credibility," the governor-elect said. "People have to know that in an election, as in a good basketball game, there's a winner and a loser, and you have to accept the outcome."

"I do think it is unfortunate that it does go to a subsequent appeal," he said "In fact, this has been an embarrassment to the state, an affront to the voters and an extraordinary waste of money."

Mrs. Sauerbrey, who lost to Mr. Glendening by 5,993 votes out of 1.4 million cast, filed suit Dec. 27 alleging that irregularities and fraud had cost her the election.

Judge Thieme said Mrs. Sauerbrey had challenged 3,664 votes, a fraction of the 47,000 questioned in her original lawsuit.

More than 1,800 of the challenged votes were cast by people who technically should have been purged from Baltimore voter rolls because they had not voted in five years.

Judge Thieme pointed to an appellate court ruling that such voters cannot be challenged after the election. "The right to vote is too precious for the court to take that right away under these circumstances," he said.

The judge concluded that Baltimore elections administrator Barbara Jackson had made mistakes -- such as not purging some voters from the rolls -- that warranted further review.

But he added, "To this court, she is a dedicated and conscientious government employee who made a mistake. I think she has done, and will continue to do, yeoman work under what seem to be extremely difficult circumstances."

Judge Thieme saved his harshest words for Arnold B. Urken, a New Jersey political science professor brought in as an expert by Mrs. Sauerbrey's legal team.

His conclusions were based on flawed data and his testimony "is simply not believable," the judge said.

Departing momentarily from his written ruling, Judge Thieme said: "It's been some time since I heard testimony that was so . . . let's leave it at that," prompting laughter throughout the packed second-floor courtroom.

Dr. Urken's testimony included a claim that the Baltimore vote count appeared to be off by 1 million ballots, a conclusion he drew based on information provided by the Sauerbrey camp. The official count showed about 151,000 Baltimore voters, and the city has fewer than 1 million residents.

Surrounded by reporters and dozens of supporters outside the red-brick courthouse, Mrs. Sauerbrey vowed to push on.

Despite news reports questioning many of her claims, Mrs. Sauerbrey continued to insist that she had turned up hard evidence of voting fraud, including ballots supposedly cast in the names of the dead or people who were behind bars on Election Day.

And she said that her case was crippled by adverse rulings from the judge during the trial and by resistance from government officials to provide documents she needed.

"The only evidence the judge used to render his decision was that which made it through the very narrow eye of the needle," she said. "When I decided to fight City Hall, I didn't think I'd have to do so with both hands tied behind my back."

In his ruling, Judge Thieme responded to such criticisms, which were sounded repeatedly during the five-day trial by Mrs. Sauerbrey and her supporters.

"This court is not some Byzantine bazaar where we allow anyone to come in at any time and say whatever they want," the judge said.

He said he imposed a tight deadline on the trial to accommodate the wishes of both sides to have the matter decided before the scheduled inaugural.

The judge theorized that no matter what he ruled, the public had already decided whether the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election was fair.

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