An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge Monday refused a request to immediately order the Maryland State Board of Elections to remove Nathaniel T. Oaks’ name from the June 26 primary ballot, but agreed to schedule arguments on why the court should intercede at all in the matter.
Judge Stacy W. McCormack denied a temporary restraining order requiring the election board to act because there is still enough time before the ballots need to be printed to allow for the Circuit Court to fully consider both sides of having Oaks’ name stricken, said H. Mark Stichel, the lawyer who filed the case on behalf of three 41st District registered voters.
McCormack met briefly with Stichel and Andrea W. Trento, an assistant attorney general for the election board, in chambers before taking the matter into open court. The judge scheduled a hearing for Friday before another Anne Arundel Circuit judge, who will be assigned later this week, Stichel said.
Former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (right) with ex-Sen. Larry Young.
Unless a judge orders Oaks’ name removed, it will appear twice on the 41st District ballot – as a candidate for both the Maryland Senate and Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee – because the former lawmaker was qualified at the time of the state’s Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline and the subsequent withdraw and disqualification dates.
Although under indictment at the filing deadline, Oaks, 71, did not plead guilty until March 29 – more than a month later — to two felony charges of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud stemming from a federal political corruption investigation in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Two hours before the plea in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Oaks resigned his Maryland Senate seat. The West Baltimore Democrat is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on July 17, three weeks after the primary.
Under Maryland law, Oaks would not lose his right to vote until actually entering prison, and thus would still be eligible to be on a ballot until then.
The state maintains that despite Oaks’ guilty plea, there is nothing in Maryland law that allows for the State Board of Elections to change a ballot on its own at this point.
Stichel, on behalf of three political activists, Nancy Lord Lewin, Elinor G. “Ellie” Mitchell and Christopher R. Ervin, is seeking judicial relief, which is provided for in the state election law under certain conditions. In a lawsuit filed last Monday, he is asking a court to order Linda H. Lamone, the state elections administrator, to drop Oaks’ name from the 41st District ballot, claiming that leaving the name on the ballot would deny his clients their constitutional rights.
Stichel filed a series of new documents Monday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to support his efforts, including an amended complaint and motion for the temporary restraining order.
Last Thursday, Stichel appeared at a regularly scheduled meeting of the State Board of Elections and asked to have Oaks’ name removed from the ballot. At the meeting, Trento, the assistant attorney general, advised the board that it did not have the authority to remove the name from the ballot, according to an amended court filing by Stichel.
Lamone also expressed concern during the meeting “about the impact of multiple and continuing requests by candidates to change the ballot and there had to be a deadline for changes,” Stichel stated in his filing.
The board decided to take no action on the request, Veneto told Stichel, according to the court filing.
Under state law, the deadline for printing ballots is May 7, 2018, and the federally mandated deadline for mailing absentee ballots to overseas and military voters is May 12, 2018.
Oaks’ name appears on the 41st District ballot with two other Democrats vying for the Senate seat, Jill P. Carter and J.D. Merrill. It also appears in a second spot with 23 other candidates for the seven-member 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.
Supporters of Carter would also like to see Oaks’ name removed from the ballot, fearing that inclusion of his name on the ballot will draw votes away from her and give Merrill an advantage in the primary.
A second case also was filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court last Monday to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot by Linda Harpool, a registered voter in the 41st District.
Included with that case is a one-page affidavit signed by Oaks himself, consenting “to have my name removed from the ballot for the primary election for June 26, 2108.”
In fact, Oaks’ federal public defender, Lucius T. Outlaw III, wrote the federal judge who accepted the former lawmaker’s plea that he was “exploring … ways to withdraw his name” from the ballot, and even included a copy of Harpool’s lawsuit with his letter.
“To be clear, it is Mr. Oaks’s intention and desire not to be on the ballot for the upcoming primary election,” Outlaw wrote last week to Bennett.
The Anne Arundel Circuit Court clerk’s office apparently determined that the Harpool case was in some way a “deficient filing,” so far as its being filed electronically and on Monday sent a “Notice of Deficiency,” under the Maryland Rules, to the lawyer in the case, Jason Downs of Baltimore, court records show. That type of “deficiency” is generally of a technical nature that is easily resolved.
McCormack inquired Monday about the possibility of consolidating Stichel’s Lewin-Mitchell-Ervin case with the Harpool case. Stichel told the judge that his clients have no objection to that.