Court reiterates Perez's ballot removal

Attorney general candidate must be licensed and practice 10 years in state, says decision

March 27, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Reporter

A candidate for Maryland attorney general must be licensed and practice law in the state for 10 years, Maryland's highest court said yesterday.

But critics predicted the main opinion will invite a flurry of court challenges to qualifications of future candidates.

One of the four opinions issued warns that the main ruling could lead to a scenario in which judges, not voters, evaluate the qualifications of attorney general candidates.

The case stems from a battle that ended in August with the Court of Appeals throwing Democrat Thomas E. Perez off the ballot. In its order seven months ago, the court had not explained its reasoning on why Perez was removed.

"Common sense has certainly taken a beating in these opinions. I can be appointed to the Supreme Court and appointed as U.S. attorney general, but I can't run for attorney general in Maryland," Perez, a federal government lawyer from 1988 until he became a law school professor in 2001, said yesterday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley recently named Perez, a former Montgomery County Council member from Takoma Park, as secretary of labor, licensing and regulation.

"This opinion invites litigation in the future. People will go to court to challenge not only the quantity of your legal work, but the quality," Perez said.

Perez, some of whose work as a federal lawyer in Washington was on cases involving Maryland, noted that his situation is not unique. Many federal attorneys live in Maryland but work for agencies in Washington and Virginia. The ruling bars them from running for Maryland attorney general.

The top court has yet to issue its opinion in a challenge to the qualifications of Douglas F. Gansler, who was elected in November as attorney general.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, writing for three judges, said that lawyers licensed to practice in Maryland and "who are employed by federal agencies in this state" meet the qualification of practicing in Maryland for 10 years, but those employed outside the state do not.

Judge John C. Eldridge, joined by three other judges, wrote that there was no reason for the court to go beyond saying that Perez was five years short of the 10-year Maryland licensing requirement.

Writing only for himself, Eldridge said that Bell's interpretation of that requirement would invite court challenges every four years on legal work of attorney general candidates.

"Such a review is a matter for the voters," Eldridge wrote.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

To read the opinions, see Abrams v. Lamone at: www.courts.state.md.us/cgi-bin/indexlist .pl?court=both&year=2007&order=bydate&submit=Submit

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