Ex-state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks seeks to remove his own name from Baltimore primary ballot

First he resigned. Then he pleaded guilty. Now former state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks is backing an effort to remove his name from the ballot.

After months of public silence about his federal corruption case, the Baltimore Democrat said Wednesday he supports a lawsuit that would allow him to formally bow out of a primary election scheduled weeks before he is to be sentenced.

“It’s the right thing to do for the citizens of the district,” Oaks, 71, told The Baltimore Sun. “Even if I ran and won I couldn’t be seated.”

A woman who lives in Oaks’ district filed the lawsuit to have his name removed from the ballot. Oaks signed an affidavit submitted with the lawsuit saying that he consented to having his name withdrawn.

Several residents of Oaks’ former district announced Tuesday that they had filed a different lawsuit seeking to have his name stricken from the June 26 ballot.

Oaks will not accept the nomination should he win, his public defender wrote in a letter Wednesday to the U.S. district judge overseeing his case.

“We sincerely hope these actions will alleviate any concerns the Court may have, and allow the voters of District 41 to exercise their votes with full knowledge of Mr. Oaks’s circumstances and intentions,” public defender Lucius T. Outlaw wrote.

Oaks, who resigned his Senate seat and pleaded guilty last month to two federal felony charges in connection with an FBI bribery sting, remains on the ballot for the primary. State election officials say the deadline to withdraw has passed.

Former state Del. Jill P. Carter, director of the mayor’s office of civil rights, and J.D. Merrill, an educator, are also running for the Democratic nomination for the seat.

In the letter to Judge Richard D. Bennett, Outlaw said Oaks is taking several other steps to ensure that he is not nominated for the 41st District Senate seat. Oaks has suspended his campaign and wants to let voters know that he isn’t running.

In the meantime, Outlaw said, Oaks is supporting his former constituent’s lawsuit, filed as an emergency petition in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. The state Board of Elections is located in the county.

Outlaw said it was important to let Bennett know because the judge told Oaks during his guilty plea hearing that by admitting to the charges he was giving up his right to run for office. The lawsuit in Anne Arundel argues that Bennett’s comments amount to a court order.

But during the plea hearing, the judge did not order Oaks not to run. Instead Bennett asked Oaks if he understood that by pleading guilty to a felony he was giving up his right to run. That appears to be incorrect.

“Defense counsel has been unable to locate a legal basis confirming the Court’s advisement,” Outlaw wrote.

Oaks is in a curious position. Despite admitting to a felony, he would be ineligible for office only while he was serving prison time. His sentencing isn’t scheduled until July — after the June 26 Democratic primary election.

The former senator admitted accepting $15,300 in payments from an FBI informant posing as an out-of-town developer. But after being charged in the waning days of the 2017 General Assembly session, he gave no indication that he believed his political career was coming to an end.

His lawyers fought the charges in court and Oaks filed for reelection, held a fundraiser and continued to serve during this year’s session.

Oaks shocked his former colleagues by showing up in Annapolis the day after his March 29 resignation and guilty plea to advocate for one of the last bills he introduced as a legislator.

Removing his name from the ballot will end a nearly four-decade political career.

“The only fair thing to do is let the citizens vote for one or two people,” Oaks said.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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