Challenge To Gansler Candidacy Rejected

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 28, 2006

Democrat Douglas F. Gansler's bid for state attorney general is "constitutionally acceptable," a judge ruled yesterday, rejecting a lawsuit that asserted Gansler did not have the 10 years' experience in Maryland required for the post.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth released an opinion declaring that the Montgomery County prosecutor's 17 years as a member of the Maryland State Bar, combined with his legal work in that time, satisfies the standard set in the state constitution.

Gansler, who had described the suit as "frivolous," welcomed the judge's ruling and called for dropping the matter, campaign manager Vivek Chopra said. "Let's get back to talking about the issues, what's going on with the environment and gangs and how to address corporate fraud," Chopra said.

Gansler's Republican opponent, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, said that he had nothing to do with the suit but that it had been worth pursuing. "It was a constitutional question that needed to be resolved," Rolle said yesterday evening. "If it's been decided in his favor -- no harm, no foul."

The suit was brought by a registered voter, Nikos Liddy of Bowie, who was represented by Rolle's campaign manager, Jason Shoemaker.

Shoemaker said no decision about an appeal would be made until he spoke to his client. "We certainly showed that this was not a frivolous complaint without merit," he said, referring to the judge's 24-page opinion.

A decision disqualifying Gansler could have thrown the campaign into turmoil less than two weeks before Election Day. The same constitutional provision had cost Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) his bid for the attorney general's post in August.

The state constitution specifies that the attorney general must have "resided and practiced Law in this State for at least ten years," but it does not say what constitutes practicing law.

This question is at the heart of the Gansler and Perez cases, but the high court has not yet issued its opinion explaining the Perez ruling.

Gansler said that his membership in the state bar since 1989 by itself met the threshold. Perez, by contrast, has been a member only since 2001.

Silkworth wrote that the bar membership is a "crucial factor." He also counted Gansler's volunteer work for the Montgomery County Commission on Aging and the county's NAACP criminal justice committee, as well as work for family and friends.

Before he became state's attorney in 1998, Gansler was a federal prosecutor and in private practice.

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