A Baltimore law firm has filed litigation to remove disgraced state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks’ name from the June primary ballot after the lawmaker was convicted of federal crimes.
Lawyer H. Mark Stichel, who runs the Baltimore-based firm Astrachan Gunst Thomas, said the suit filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court against Maryland elections administrator Linda H. Lamone seeks to force Oaks’ name off the June 26 ballot for the Democratic Party primary.
The suit also seeks to declare unconstitutional Maryland statutes that freeze the primary election day ballot almost four months in advance of the election.
“We have received and are reviewing the complaint,” Lamone said in an email.
The suit was filed on behalf of three registered voters in Baltimore’s District 41. Oaks pleaded guilty last month to a pair of felony fraud offenses. Federal guidelines call for Oaks to receive eight to 10 years in prison.
Oaks’ name, however, remains on the state elections ballot, along with former state Del. Jill P. Carter, director of the Mayor’s Office of Civil Rights, and J.D. Merrill, an educator, both of whom are seeking the senate seat.
Stichel said that creates a problem.
“If Oaks’ name remains on the ballot, even though he will be ineligible to serve, it will cause confusion among voters,” Stichel said in a statement. “Should voters cast a vote for Oaks, their votes will be disregarded. Such confusion will adversely impact voters’ constitutional right to cast their ballot effectively.”
Maryland law does not allow a person to run for office if the person is not an eligible voter. For years, this provision prevented felons from holding office in the state because they were barred from voting.
But in 2006, the General Assembly restored voting rights to felons as soon as they are released from prison, even if they are on parole or probation. Therefore, there is currently no prohibition on a felon holding office in Maryland, unless he or she is in prison.
Stichel argues that there’s a “substantial likelihood” that Oaks is headed for prison. “That’s going to be an issue we’re going to litigate in this case,” he said.
The 41st District’s Democratic Central Committee will meet April 17 to select a replacement for Oaks. The organization is accepting resumes until this Friday.
Oaks is one of seven members of the committee who will select his replacement.
Scherod C. Barnes, chairman of the Baltimore Democratic Central Committee, said he’s called Oaks to ask him to resign but has not heard back.
The Maryland Democratic Party has by-laws that say a member shall be removed upon a felony conviction.
But Barnes said the organization doesn’t consider Oaks’ conviction finalized until he is sentenced, which isn't scheduled to happen until July 17, after the June primary election.
“He can save a whole lot of heartache if he resigns,” Barnes said. “Unless he resigns, he’s eligible to participate in the process.”
Carter has said she intends to seek the appointment, while Merrill has said neither of them should apply.
One committee member, former Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, said she’s urging her colleagues to hold off on naming an appointee until after the primary election.
Given that this year’s General Assembly session is over, Spector said she views it as a “waste of taxpayer money” to fill the seat with an appointee who will collect a paycheck for a few months before the senator is chosen by the voters.
But Barnes said if the committee doesn’t recommend an appointee to Gov. Larry Hogan within 30 days of Oaks’ resignation, then the governor can choose his own candidate to temporarily fill the seat, provided that person is a Democrat and lives in the district.
“After this process, there should be some changes in how we do things when it comes to replacements,” Barnes said.
To apply for the seat, applicants must be a registered Democratic voter and must have resided in the district for at least six months. Applicants must be at least 25 years old.
All resumes must be sent to: Angela C. Gibson, 41st District Chair, Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, P. O. Box 23762, Baltimore, Maryland 21203-5762.
Interviews will be held at 6 p.m. on April 17 at the Forest Park Golf Club, 2900 Hillsdale Road, Baltimore, MD 21207.
After the interviews, committee members are scheduled to vote publicly to fill the vacancy.