Maine supreme court tells lower court judge to dismiss Ralph Nader lawsuit over 2004 election

Posted May 23, 2013, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified May 23, 2013, at 5:21 p.m.
Ralph Nader is shown in January 2007.
David Shankbone
Ralph Nader is shown in January 2007.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday ordered that Ralph Nader’s lawsuit against the Maine Democratic Party over petitioning activities in the 2004 presidential election be dismissed as frivolous.

The 15-page decision was unanimous.

The justices heard oral arguments in the case on April 10.

“Because we conclude that Nader failed to meet his burden to present the court with prima facie evidence that MDP’s petitioning activities in Maine were devoid of factual or legal support, we conclude that MDP’s motion to dismiss should be granted.”

Prima facie evidence is assumed to be true unless proven not to be, according to Black’s Law Dictionary.

The decision said that any of the following could have been but were not submitted as evidence: a transcript of the proceeding before the hearing officer who recommended to the Secretary of State’s office that the complaints about petition irregularities be dismissed; a copy of the hearing officer’s complete report; or the Secretary of State’s decision.

The Nader suit stemmed from the 2004 presidential election nearly a decade ago 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 Ballot Project Inc., a supporting organization.

“We are pleased with the outcome and glad this case has been dismissed,” Maine Democratic Party Communications Director Lizzy Reinholt said Thursday in an email.

Efforts to reach Nader’s attorney, Oliver B. Hall of Boston, were unsuccessful Thursday.

It was the second time the state’s high court has ruled in the case.

Superior Court Justice Kevin Cuddy dismissed the case in 2010, saying the state’s anti-SLAPP, or frivolous lawsuit, 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.

On Thursday, the state supreme court sent the case back to Cuddy and ordered him to dismiss all counts.

“This decision finally puts the 2004 election to bed,” Stephen Langsdorf, the Augusta attorney who represented the Democratic Party, said Thursday.

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