Plaintiffs Want Court to Combine Cases Seeking to Keep Oaks Off Primary Ballot
Jason Downs, the lawyer representing Laura Harpool, a registered voter from West Baltimore’s 41st District, filed the consent motion Wednesday to combine the case with that of three other voters from the district who are seeking the ballot change for the June 26 election.
“The case involves the subject matter of former Sen. Nathaniel Oaks’s name being removed from the rapidly approaching primary election ballot in order to avoid giving Legislative District 41 voters the inaccurate impression that he is a viable candidate,” Downs wrote.
Downs concluded by asking the court to consolidate the two cases.
H. Mark Stichel, lawyer for the case filed by the other three plaintiffs from the 41st District — Nancy Lord Lewin, Elinor G. “Ellie” Mitchell and Christopher R. Ervin – already has said he is willing to consolidate the cases.
Maryland election officials maintain there is nothing in state law that allows them to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot, despite the fact that the former lawmaker pleaded guilty March 29 to two federal felony charges.
On Monday, Judge Stacy W. McCormack denied Stichel’s request for a temporary restraining order requiring the Maryland State Board of Elections to remove Oaks’ name, 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 the name stricken.
A two-hour hearing on why the court should intercede at all in the matter of removing Oaks’ name is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday before an Anne Arundel County Circuit judge, who will be assigned later this week.
In advance of the hearing, Andrea W. Trento, an assistant attorney general for the election board, and Stichel have been ordered to file written arguments and responses in the case.
Unless a judge orders Oaks’ name removed, it will appear twice on the 41st District ballot – as a candidate for the Maryland Senate and Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee – because he was qualified at the time of the state’s Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline and the subsequent withdraw and disqualification dates.
Although Oaks, 71, was under indictment at the filing deadline, he did not plead guilty until more than a month later to two charges of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud stemming from a federal political corruption probe in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Oaks resigned his Maryland Senate seat just two hours before his plea in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. 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 he enters prison, and thus would still be eligible to be on a ballot until then.
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 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.
Linda Harpool, the plaintiff in one of the cases, is the daughter of Adrian Harpool, a strategist and spokesman for the Carter campaign.
Included with the Harpool case, as filed by Downs, is a one-page affidavit signed by Oaks himself, consenting to having his name removed from the primary election ballot.
Oaks’ federal public defender, Lucius T. Outlaw III, wrote to Bennett, who accepted the former lawmaker’s plea and will sentence him in July, about the ballot question. In it, Outlaw explained that Oaks was “exploring … ways to withdraw his name” from the ballot and included a copy of Harpool’s lawsuit with his letter.