Court rejects challenge to Gansler

November 03, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

Douglas F. Gansler will remain the Democratic nominee for state attorney general for Tuesday's election after Maryland's highest court rejected a challenge to his eligibility.

In a brief order, the Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the legal challenge to Gansler's candidacy was filed too late, but it did not address the substance of the case.

The ruling came hours after the court heard arguments in the appeal filed by a Bowie man - and argued by the campaign manager for Gansler's Republican opponent in the election - who claimed that Gansler lacked the constitutional requirement of 10 years of practicing law in Maryland.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth last week ruled that Gansler met the requirement by being a member of the bar for 17 years, and during that time did other legal work in the state before he was elected as Montgomery County state's attorney eight years ago.

In dismissing the case, the Court of Appeals' order vacates the lower court's order as well.

"I think this is an example of how dirty tricks in a political campaign often backfire," said Gansler, who called the challenge a "frivolous, last-minute, desperate lawsuit" by the campaign for Republican attorney general nominee Scott L. Rolle because the Frederick County prosecutor is lagging in the polls. "It provided me once again an opportunity to put forth the depth and breadth of my qualifications."

Jason W. Shoemaker, Rolle's campaign manager and lawyer for the man who brought the suit, Nikos S. Liddy, yesterday denied it was politically motivated to benefit Rolle. "It was not orchestrated by the campaign," he said.

Rolle previously said he was not linked to the lawsuit but said that it raised an important question.

The court's order dismissed the case on a legal doctrine that says a different decision would be unfair or prejudicial because of time constraints.

Lawyers for the state Board of Elections argued that throwing Gansler off the ballot five days before the election would create chaos, a contention that found apparent sympathy with judges during the hourlong courtroom arguments.

"I don't see how we can grant relief at this late stage," Judge Dale R. Cathell told Shoemaker.

One of the arguments made on Gansler's behalf was that the lawsuit should have been filed by July 13, 10 days after the deadline to file candidacy, and not after the September primary results. It was filed about two weeks ago.

The court indicated that it will issue an opinion to explain the ruling, but did not say when.

The issue of tenure of Maryland practice ended the candidacy of a Gansler opponent in the Democratic primary, Thomas E. Perez. The Court of Appeals ruled against Perez, but has yet to explain its reasoning. The University of Maryland law professor and Montgomery County councilman had been a member of the state bar for only five years.

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