MACHIAS, Maine — No decisions were reached Friday in Washington County Superior Court after several hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by national activist Ralph Nader and three others against the Maine and national Democratic committees.
Nader maintains that the Democrats launched a nationwide effort to use litigation to neutralize his 2004 presidential campaign. He alleges that baseless lawsuits were filed against Nader in 29 states, including Maine, which challenged the honesty of petitions to place Nader and his running mate, the late Peter Camejo, on the ballot.
Nader did not attend Friday’s hearing.
Nader’s attorney, Oliver Hall of Washington, D.C., explained Friday in the courtroom that the lawsuit brought by Nader alleges a pattern of abuse of the election process. In Maine for instance, Hall said the Democrats based the brunt of their challenge of Nader’s nomination on the misspelling of a single elector’s name on some of the 479 petitions.
The elector, J. Noble Snowdeal of Jonesboro, had his name written in on some petition forms as John Noble Snowdeal, when his first name is actually Joseph.
“He is a living, breathing person. He exists,” Hall told Justice Kevin Cuddy, who is hearing the case.
The secretary of state ruled in 2004 that the Snowdeal name mistake was a “good faith error,” and dismissed a move to disqualify the petitions. The Democrats challenged the secretary of state’s ruling all the way to the state supreme court, before the appeal was rejected and the Nader-Camejo ticket was allowed on the Maine ballot.
Hall said that of the 29 lawsuits filed around the United States, 24 were similarly dismissed.
Central to Friday’s hearing, which was called to provide for oral arguments to bolster and refine the more than 500 pages of evidence already submitted by the various attorneys on the case, was defining what part of the Nader lawsuit against the Democrats actually occurred in Maine.
Hall contended that the Maine lawsuit was part of “a pattern of baseless, repetitive claims of systematic fraud across the country with the intent to cause injury to the process itself.”
He said the 29 lawsuits filed by the National Democratic Committee were filed in a 12-week span. At least 95 lawyers from 52 law firms nationwide joined the Democrats’ litigation against the Nader-Camejo Campaign, Hall said.
Nader and his 2004 Maine electors Christopher Droznik, Nancy Oden and Rosemary Whittaker, filed suit in 2009 in Washington, D.C., against the Maine Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, Kerry-Edwards 2004, The Ballot Project Inc., Dorothy Melanson, Terry McAuliffe and Toby Moffett, alleging abuse of process and wrongful use of civil proceedings.
When that lawsuit was tossed out because the three-year statute of limitations had expired, Nader refiled it in Washington County. Maine’s statute of limitations is six years.
Hall argued Friday that the Democrats clearly had a right to challenge the petitions, but only for just cause. “In Maine, there is clearly no evidence of fraud,” Hall said.
Lewiston defense attorney Stacy O. Stitham said that Maine law, however, does not address the issue of motive.
“Motives never entered into the question,” Stitham said, arguing for a dismissal of the Nader suit. “The motives for filing a legitimate challenge to a ballot shouldn’t matter. The Constitution does not make any distinction based on motive.”
As high winds caused the lights in the courtroom to flicker on and off, Cuddy gave the attorneys two hours to make arguments. The judge said Friday he still needed to review documentation relating to the case before issuing a decision on motions to dismiss the case. He gave no time frame for announcing that decision.
If the case is not dismissed, Cuddy said the next time he would be available for a trial at Machias is February 2011.