Judge denies witnesses' testimony in slots lawsuit

Petition signers allege they were misled

May 26, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

A group of Anne Arundel County residents who say they were misled into signing a ballot referendum petition against slots at Arundel Mills will not be permitted to testify in court, the judge overseeing a lawsuit to stop the referendum question said Wednesday.

Lawyers for a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., the developer of what would likely be the state's most lucrative slots parlor, attempted to present testimony from four county residents who say signature solicitors told them that the petition supported slots. The lawyers said they have affidavits from 100 residents making the allegation.

Cordish Cos. is suing the county elections board, saying it failed to detect fraud in the petition process.

"False statements made by circulators to induce [people to sign the petition] should have been regulated by the [elections] board," said Cordish attorney Anthony Herman. "The board failed so miserably in conducting itself, and the evidence should be presented to show that."

Lawyers for the opposing side — including the Maryland Jockey Club, which financed the petition effort; Citizens Against Slots at the Mall, the petition sponsor; and FieldWorks, the Washington-based company hired to gather signatures — denied any impropriety on the part of the petition circulators.

Steve Rabinowitz, a spokesman for FieldWorks, called the Cordish lawyers' actions' a "last-minute attempt to introduce so-called evidence."

"FieldWorks circulators honestly represented the issue every time they engaged a voter," said Rabinowitz, who said their workers wore red T-shirts that said "Stop Slots." "We are confident that FieldWorks complied with the highest standards of the law."

Judge Ronald A. Silkworth denied the request, citing the rules of a judicial review of an administrative agency, which does not allow for outside evidence, except on certain conditions. Closing arguments in the case are expected to be heard today.

The allegations were made on the third day of the trial to determine whether Anne Arundel County voters will get a chance to decide on a zoning law approved by the County Council late last year allowing slots at the mall.

The Cordish group filed the lawsuit in February, alleging that the county elections board ignored fraud in the petition drive. In April, county elections officials validated about 23,000 of the 40,000 signatures collected — more than the 19,000 needed — allowing the referendum to go forward.

Silkworth also denied requests from Cordish attorneys to allow testimony from several other witnesses — Tom Chuckas, president of the Jockey Club; Heather A. Ford, president of CASM; a representative from FieldWorks; and Joseph Weinberg, a vice president at Cordish.

Speaking outside the courtroom, the petition signers say they were approached to sign a petition in support of slots.

James Bull, 52, from Pasadena, said he was home a couple of months ago when two women knocked on his door and asked him whether he supported slots.

When Bull, a regular gambler who makes trips to Atlantic City, answered in the affirmative, one of the women said, "'Sign this. This is for slots,'" Bull said.

"I'll never sign anything again," he said. "It makes you feel stupid."

Mary Zinn said she was going to a crafts store in Glen Burnie in January when she was asked to sign.

"I said, 'I already voted for slots,' " Zinn said she told a male signature solicitor. "He said, 'If you sign this, it will help get it through faster.' "

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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