Results of judicial primary to stand

High court has yet to rule on partisan restrictions

April 03, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court threw out yesterday an independent voter's bid to erase the results of the contested judicial primary in Anne Arundel County, but left open the wider issue of whether voters unaffiliated with a major party should be allowed to cast ballots in future judicial primaries.

"The current election results are not going to be overturned, disturbed. I guess we will hear later from the court as to whether the current system for judicial elections is unconstitutional," said Judith A. Armold, assistant attorney general for the state Board of Elections. "I think this decision does not tell us a whole lot, other than coming in right before the election or on election day with a lawsuit was not something they favor."

The Court of Appeals issued its order hours after hearing arguments in a case in which voters who chose not to register as Democrats or Republicans contended that they were unconstitutionally disenfranchised. The primary for Circuit Court judge is nonpartisan, the voters argued, and therefore should be open to them.

FOR THE RECORD - An article that appeared in the Maryland section on April 3 incorrectly stated the status of Michael Suessmann, one of two people who brought a lawsuit challenging the way judicial primaries for Circuit Court are held in Maryland. Although he dropped his request for an injunction to void election results in St. Mary's County, he remains a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The Sun regrets the error.

The case threatened to force a new primary among the eight candidates - three sitting judges and five challengers - for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge. Fewer than 100 votes made the difference in securing a place on the November ballot in a county with more than 43,000 independent voters.

If the seven-judge Court of Appeals rules that the system is unconstitutional, it is likely to fall to the General Assembly to create a new method of selecting candidates in the 2006 primaries.

For more than a decade, legislators have been arguing over the way judges are elected.

"I still feel as confident as I did when I left the Court of Appeals building about our being triumphant on the matter," said Gregory Care of Linthicum, a 22-year-old law student who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

"It's not the end of the case, and it is not the heart of the case," David R. Rocah, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The organization joined the case and represented Care as well as Michael Suessmann of Leonardtown, who filed the initial complaint in St. Mary's County about the judicial primary there. Suessmann eventually dropped out of the suit.

"It is not on the merits of the constitutional claim. They will be deciding the constitutional claim in the future," Rocah said.

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