PORTLAND, Maine — Ralph Nader and the Maine Democratic Party on Wednesday afternoon took their nearly decade-old fight to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court for a second time.
“This case represents the latest front in a retributive war waged by a losing candidate against a rival campaign, eight years after the voters have spoken,” Portland attorney Stephen Langsdorf, who represents the Maine Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee, wrote in his 50-page brief. “Having lost already in the District of Columbia on the same claims, on the same facts, and against the same defendants, appellee Ralph Nader moved to Maine in search of a better law and a second chance.”
Lawyers for Nader disagreed.
“This action arises from the concerted effort of a major political party and its allies to obstruct the lawful participation of an independent candidacy in the 2004 presidential election, so as to deny voters in Maine and nationwide an alternative choice at the poles,” Harold H. Burbank II of Canton, Conn., said in his 40-page brief.
Justices during Wednesday’s oral arguments set aside the political spin on both sides and focused on the record — the motions, rulings and transcripts filed in previous proceedings. Supreme Judicial Court Justice Leigh I. Saufley and three other justices repeatedly asked attorneys on both sides how they could decide the case when the record did not include the transcript of a hearing held in August 2004 before the Maine Bureau of Corporations, Elections & Commissions or the complete decision of the hearing officer.
One of the allegations the hearing officer decided that was referenced by Justice Jon Levy accused one or more petition circulators of falsely affirming that the signatures were made in their presence. The name of the hearing officer is not included in the briefs.
Washington, D.C., lawyer Oliver Hall, who represented Nader at oral arguments, said the Maine Democratic Party did not present enough evidence to support those claims.
“I did not find anywhere in record that shows the hearing officer reached that conclusion,” Saufley said.
There is no procedure for supplementing the record for the state supreme court with more information, according to Langsdorf.
It would be the burden of Nader’s legal team to introduce more information about those allegations at trial, he said after oral arguments concluded.
There is no timetable under which the justices must issue their decision.
The Nader suit stemmed 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 President 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 the Ballot Project Inc., a supporting organization.
Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy dismissed the case in 2010, saying the state’s anti-SLAPP statute compelled him to do so.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 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.
On April, 19, 2012, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision and sent the case back to Washington County Superior Court, telling the judge the case should go forward unless Nader’s attorneys failed to make “‘a prima facie showing’ in support of their claims.”
In a Sept. 20, 2012, ruling, Cuddy said Nader’s legal team had “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,” he ruled.
The judge also dismissed two counts.
Both sides appealed Cuddy’s decisions.