At Debate, Rolle Questions Gansler's Eligibility for Office

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Republican attorney general candidate Scott L. Rolle sharply criticized rival Douglas F. Gansler during a televised debate last night, questioning the Democrat's credentials for the state job and accusing him of insulting the residents of Western Maryland.

During the debate on Maryland Public Television, Rolle expressed support for a lawsuit that has been filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court challenging whether Gansler is eligible for the office. "First and foremost, we do need to know whether the candidate is qualified," said Rolle, the Frederick County state's attorney. "It's a constitutional question that must be resolved."

Rolle's campaign manager, Jason Shoemaker, is the attorney for the Bowie man who brought the case.

Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, responded by calling the lawsuit a political tactic "reminiscent of Karl Rove" and described Rolle's comments as "sad."

"He has filed, through his campaign manager, a frivolous, silly, desperate lawsuit, only because he's behind 30 points in the polls and has not received the endorsement of any major statewide group," Gansler said.

Rolle also criticized Gansler for referring to Rolle's home county as "Fredneck" in an interview with a Washington Post reporter for a profile published last week.

"It's insulting to me and insulting to the entire area of Western Maryland," Rolle said. "We need an attorney general who will not make elitist, arrogant and condescending comments about the people of this state."

Gansler denied ever uttering the phrase. "The reporter knows it," he said during the debate. "It's rank hearsay."

Reporter Philip Rucker said Gansler used the expression jokingly in a recent interview in Gansler's office, and the quote appears in his notes. Gansler has not called The Post to request a correction on the article, published Friday.

The Anne Arundel suit, first reported in the Baltimore Sun, was filed by Nikos Stanford Liddy and questions whether Gansler meets a state constitutional requirement that the attorney general have practiced law in Maryland for 10 years. Gansler has been state's attorney in Montgomery for eight years and a member of the Maryland State Bar Association for 17.

That provision tripped up another Democratic hopeful, Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (Silver Spring), who did not join the Maryland bar until 2001 and was forced off the ballot just weeks before the September primary by the state Court of Appeals.

Gansler has been a member of the Maryland bar since 1989, according to the bar membership directory. "And I've practiced law ever since," he said. He said his bar membership, in addition to his public and private practice, meets the Maryland requirement.

The Court of Appeals has not released an opinion explaining its ruling in the Perez case. However, Dan Friedman, a state constitution expert at the University of Maryland School of Law, said in an interview last month that Gansler's credentials should meet the standard. "Bar membership should be a sufficient indicator that a candidate has practiced law in the state," Friedman said. "Therefore, Gansler would be constitutionally eligible."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company