Court Hearing Set to Reconsider Oaks' Ballot Status

An Anne Arundel County Circuit judge Tuesday set a hearing this week to reconsider whether to order the Maryland State Board of Elections to remove state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks’ name from the June 26 Democratic primary ballot, now that he is ineligible to hold office.

 

In a meeting in chambers with lawyers for both sides, Judge Cathleen M. Vitale recused herself from the case, but scheduled a hearing on the question for 1:30 p.m. Thursday before a judge who has yet to be named.

 

The original judge in the case, Judge Glenn L. Klavans, is on vacation this week.

 

Meanwhile, state elections officials continued the time-sensitive and complicated process they began Monday of proofing, testing and printing 747 different configurations of the primary ballot that will be used at polling places statewide.

 

On Friday, Klavans refused to order state elections officials to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot for Baltimore’s 41st District because at that point, he was still a registered voter and under state law, a qualified candidate – despite pleading guilty March 29 to two federal felonies.

 

                                                                                      Judge Cathleen M. Vitale

 

In a ruling from the bench, however, Klavans did allow that his decision might be different, were Oaks not qualified to run for office.

 

Oaks’ status changed Monday, when he withdrew his Maryland voter registration at the Baltimore City Board of Elections, prompting attorneys for three 41st District voters seeking the removal of Oaks’ name from the ballot to file the motion for reconsideration.

 

H. Mark Stichel and Elizabeth A. Harlan, lawyers representing Nancy Lord Lewin, Elinor G. “Ellie” Mitchell and Christopher R. Ervin in the case, had asked Oaks, through his defense lawyer, to cancel his voter registration.

 

In response, Oaks, who has said he does not want to appear on the ballot and signed an affidavit to that effect that is filed in both Anne Arundel Circuit Court and U.S. District Court in Baltimore, removed his name from the voter rolls.

 

While Vitale did not take up the matter, she did grant a motion to shorten until 6 p.m. Wednesday the amount of time the state has to respond in writing to the plaintiffs’ request for reconsideration, Stichel said.

 

It was not immediately clear why Vitale recused herself Tuesday. She and Oaks did serve together in the Maryland House of Delegates from January 2011 to February 2015, but were not on the same committee. A Republican, Vitale represented District 33A, in Anne Arundel County.

 

Andrea W. Trento, an assistant attorney general for the election board, had argued earlier that there is nothing in Maryland law that allows election officials to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot, given the circumstances – and timing – of the ex-lawmaker’s situation.

 

Unless a judge were to order 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 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.

 

He resigned his Maryland Senate seat just two hours before pleading guilty in Baltimore before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, who will sentence him this summer.

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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.

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