MACHIAS, Maine — A Maine Superior Court judge’s recent ruling in Machias has resuscitated Ralph Nader’s three-year legal battle over what he terms a “conspiracy” in Maine to undermine his 2004 presidential election bid as an independent candidate.
Superior Court Justice Kevin M. Cuddy ruled on Sept. 20 that a 2009 lawsuit filed on behalf of Nader — a lawyer, consumer advocate and longtime critic of two-party politics — must proceed to trial.
“Now that the initial procedural obstructions have finally been cleared, we are looking forward to having our day in court,” Nader said of Cuddy’s decision in a prepared statement. “One goal of our campaign was to expose and challenge the stifling anti-democratic and anti-competitive barriers the two major parties erect against legitimate challengers in order to deny voters a free and broader choice of candidates. The evidence supporting our case is prodigious, and we look forward to proving our claims to a jury.”
Justice Cuddy had dismissed the lawsuit in 2010, awarding the defendants — the Maine Democratic Party and others — $1 in legal fees. But the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously overturned that decision in April of this year.
Nader’s suit alleges a civil conspiracy that involved abuse of process and malicious prosecution in Maine and 17 other states and the District of Columbia. It claims that Democrats orchestrated a concerted, nationwide effort to neutralize Nader’s 2004 presidential campaign by filing baseless lawsuits that challenged the validity of petitions to place Nader and his running mate, the late Peter Miguel Camejo, on the ballot.
In April, the state’s supreme court instructed the lower court to determine whether “Nader can present sufficient evidence to make a prima facie showing that any of the [defendants’] petitioning activities, including action in Maine, were devoid of any reasonable factual support or any arguable legal basis and resulted in actual injury to him.”
In his Sept. 20 ruling, Justice Cuddy said Nader’s legal team has “demonstrated ‘some evidence’ that the defendants’ petition activity in Maine was devoid of factual and legal support and caused actual injury.” The ruling also rejected the defendants’ efforts to have the case dismissed on the basis of legal jurisdiction.
“This Court will allow discovery to take place and make a determination as to jurisdiction over the defendants, corporate and individual, when the issue is raised again at trial,” Justice Cuddy ruled.
The lawsuit names as defendants the Maine Democratic Party, its former chairman Dorothy Melanson, the Democratic National Committee, its former chairman Terry McAuliffe, the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign and a national political organization called The Ballot Project. In his latest ruling, Cuddy also dismissed The Ballot as a defendant, because the organization no longer exists.
“Justice Cuddy’s decision and the Law Court’s decision before that are important steps on the road to more free and equal elections and robust democracy in the United States,” Nader said. “This case is about the right of the people — not private political parties and partisan, exclusionary elections officials — to decide who serves in public office.”
Nader’s legal team includes Bar Harbor attorney Lynn Williams, who said Tuesday she was “pleased and surprised” the suit is back on track. She also said a jury trial won’t take place for some time.
“We have until May to do discovery, so it would be sometime after that,” she said. “Since we filed in Washington County, by default the jury trial should be in Washington County. If the judge, as a matter of convenience, wants it moved, we may object to that.”
Williams expects the already lengthy process of sorting out the lawsuit will “go on for some time.”
“But that’s OK,” she said. “There are a lot of important issues here.”
BDN Reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.