This story has been updated.
The increasingly bizarre race for District Shadow Senator took a new turn Thursday when a leading candidate in the April 3 primary got his wish and was sentenced to jail. That happened after his case was transferred to a new judge when Ross’s opponent, incumbent Michael D. Brown, reached out to the old judge to try to influence her decison.
Pete Ross, a local businessman who has put $200,000 of his own money into the race, received one day in jail and a $50 fine after he was arrested during a voting rights demonstration Capitol Hill last year. Ross has been taken into custody so he can spend the night in jail.
While a misdemeanor charge of this kind usually results in a nominal fine, Ross pushed for the maximum sentence of 90 days to highlight the lack of D.C. voting rights. Ross had drawn up plans to continue his campaign from jail through election day.
But before his sentencing, the case was transferred out of Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Carroll Wingo’s courtroom on Thursday morning, according to the Ross campaign and legal observers familiar with matter.
Wingo informed the court that Brown, who is struggling to withstand Ross’s well-financed campaign, had contacted her Wednesday night.
Observers said Wingo told the court Brown briefly urged her not to grant Ross’s wish for jail time, but she quickly ended the call.
Though Wingo stressed she felt she could still make an impartial ruling, Ross’s attorneys asked that the case be transferred to Magistrate Judge Fredrick J. Sullivan, who later handed down Ross’s one-day sentence.
Brown on Thursday confirmed the call.
"I contacted her as a citizen," Brown said. "When she said it was inappropriate, we ended the conversation."
Brown said he was is upset that Ross is trying to gain publicity for his campaign off the statehood issue. “Pete Ross’s attempt to gain publicity by criminalizing the statehood movement is wrong," said Brown, noting he was also arrested during a voting rights demonstration last year. "For those of us who fought the charges, his stunt is an insult."
Brown’s effort to reach out to the judge could present new hurdles for his campaign.
“It’s very unusual to say the least, and possibly improper to contact her in her chambers,” said Ann C. Wilcox, an attorney who represented Ross. “It shows he’s desperate...that could raise questions about his judgment.”
In recent weeks, Ross has racked up numerous endorsements, despite a past felony conviction for failing to remit his employees income taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.