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Court to consider if state’s frivolous lawsuit statute applies to Nader’s case

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2004, in Portland, Maine.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will review the law intended to curb frivolous lawsuits Wednesday when it hears oral arguments in Ralph Nader’s appeal over challenges to his 2004 presidential bid.

The case is one of 20 the justices will consider when they convene Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Cumberland County Courthouse.

The Nader suit stems from the 2004 presidential election when Democrats and others filed 29 complaints against his campaign in 19 states, including Maine, in an effort to keep Nader and his running mate, the late Peter Camejo, off the ballot, according to previously published reports. Nader and Camejo did make it on the ballots in 34 states, including Maine, but Republican George W. Bush won re-election.

Nader and co-plaintiffs Christopher Droznick, Nancy Oden and Rosemary Whittaker, all of Maine, filed the lawsuit in Washington County Superior Court in November 2009, after the statute of limitations ran out in every other state. The suit charged civil conspiracy, wrongful use of civil proceedings and abuse of process against the Maine Democratic Party, party officials and supporting organizations.

Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy dismissed the case in November 2010, stating that the state’s anti-SLAPP law compelled him to. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Defendants in the case then sought to have attorney fees paid by Nader. Cuddy awarded them $1 in December.

Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted 1995, according to previously published reports, with the intention of protecting activists who are sued by real estate developers for speaking out against proposed projects. Typical SLAPP suits have no merit and are filed only to impose litigation costs.

Cuddy said in dismissing the case that it was not “typical” of the “mischief” that the anti-SLAPP statute intended to remedy, but found the statute applied, based on his view of its “broad interpretations and application” by the state supreme court in previous cases.

The Democratic Party has cross-appealed the award of $1 for attorney’s fees.

The justices also will hear oral arguments in the following appeals:

• The Friends of the Boundary Mountains, which opposes the issuance of a permit by the Land Use Regulation Commission to TransCanada Maine Wind Development, Inc. to construct a wind energy facility in Franklin County.

• ExpressJet Airlines, Inc. objects to a judgment that it discriminated against an employee on the basis of sexual orientation.

• The Witham Family Limited Partnership contends that it does have standing to challenge in Hancock County Superior Court decisions made by the Bar Harbor Board of Appeals concerning the construction of a hotel.

• Convanta Maine LLC objects to the Public Utilities Commission denying certification of its facilities as new renewable resources.

• Humbolt Field Institute and Eagle Hill Foundation contend that Steuben illegally denied its applications for property tax exemption.

For information about cases to be argued, visit http://www.courts.state.me.us/maine_courts/supreme/oral_arguments.shtml.

BDN writer Sharon Kiley Mack contributed to this report.

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