Speedy ruling is expected in Gansler case

Suit claims attorney general candidate short of required state legal experience

October 26, 2006|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,SUN REPORTER

An Anne Arundel County circuit judge said yesterday he will quickly decide whether Democrat Douglas F. Gansler has enough experience practicing law in Maryland to qualify as a candidate for attorney general.

Judge Ronald A. Silkworth held a hearing yesterday on a lawsuit filed last week by a college student from Bowie contending Gansler has practiced in Maryland only the eight years he has been Montgomery County state's attorney - two years short of the 10 required.

Gansler argues he is qualified because has been a member of the Maryland bar for 17 years. Though he spent about half that time working in Washington for law firms and the U.S. attorney's office, he says he provided pro bono service to in-state organizations and commissions, offered legal advice to family and friends and had numerous clients with interests in Maryland.

Silkworth said he might rule within a day or two.

The state administrator of elections - technically the defendant - was represented by lawyers from the state attorney general's office who argued that according to election statutes, the case was filed after the legal deadline.

Pulling Gansler from the race at this time would jeopardize an orderly election and potentially disenfranchise those who have received or filled out absentee ballots, said Assistant Attorney General Will Brockman.

Gansler had not planned on attending the hearing, but the judge asked his lawyer, Carmen Shepard, to find him, and he testified after a lunch break.

The plaintiff, Nikos Stanford Liddy, also testified, saying he made the discovery about Gansler's credentials last week after viewing the candidate's Web site. Liddy's lawyer is Jason W. Shoemaker, who is the campaign manager for Gansler's Republican opponent, Scott L. Rolle.

Offering legal advice to people who may live in Maryland does not constitute practice, Shoemaker argued. He pointed to testimony by Gansler that before becoming state's attorney, he had not been the attorney of record in any cases in Maryland.

Shepard countered that Gansler practiced law in Maryland in numerous ways during the period in question. She said he worked pro bono for the Montgomery County Community Partnership and the Montgomery County Commission on Aging.

He was also a member of a committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that helped determine legal options for people with complaints about the criminal justice system. Such volunteer work is "one of the highest expressions of the practice of law," she said.

Gansler elaborated on his in-state service during his testimony, saying he had helped his mother draw her will, gave legal assistance to a friend whose rental van was stolen and represented Gatorade in a case with Maryland repercussions. Passing the Maryland bar and offering himself as a lawyer constitutes practicing law in the state, he said.

Brockman said that 138,043 voters have applied for absentee ballots, and 14,277 voters have cast their votes. It is too late to remove Gansler's name from those ballots and impossible to reprogram and retest the state's 20,000 electronic machines, he said.

But Shoemaker argued that if Gansler were deemed ineligible after the election and a replacement appointed, Marylanders would be deprived of the right to choose their attorney general.

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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