Cordish lawyers push to invalidate signatures

Lawyers for the developer proposing a billion-dollar slots emporium at Arundel Mills mall argued Tuesday that the Anne Arundel County elections board failed to properly vet an anti-slots petition because it did not compare submitted signatures with those in voter registration records.

Anthony Herman, a lawyer for the Cordish Cos. group, said state law calls for the election board to compare the signature on the petition with the signature on file with state voter registration records.

Lawyers for the elections board, and the coalition responsible for the petition, which was financed by the Maryland Jockey Club in hopes of steering slots to the Laurel Park race course, said election board employees made the proper comparison as required by law — making sure the name on the referendum matches the name in the voter rolls.

James Praley, a lawyer for the county election board, said the comparision is to "confirm the person is a registered voter … not a handwriting analysis."

The arguments were traded during the second day of a trial to determine whether the November ballot in Anne Arundel County will contain a question allowing voters to decide whether to keep a zoning change to allow slots at the mall.

Judge Ronald A. Silkworth is expected to decide on Wednesday whether the county's approximately 300,000-person voter registration record will be made part of the court's record.

Earlier Tuesday, Silkworth denied a push by Cordish lawyers to introduce testimony from a handwriting expert to try to prove their allegations of "massive fraud" on the part of signature collectors.

Because Silkworth has ruled the case will be handled as a judicial review of an administrative agency — the election board — he said that testimony from the expert and other additional evidence "is not allowed."

Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer representing the coalition, said Silkworth's ruling disallowing testimony from the handwriting expert was "entirely consistent" with the rules governing a judicial review.

Joseph Weinberg, a Cordish vice president, said the arguments from coaltion lawayers against expert testimony was "an attempt to keep the facts out of the case."

"The handwriting issues are obvious to a layman," Weinberg said.

Cordish lawyers said Monday that more than 1 in 3 of the approved signatures should be invalidated because of fraud and forgery.

The Cordish group filed a suit in February, alleging the county election board ignored fraud in the petition drive. In April, county elections officials validated roughly 23,000 signatures — more than the 19,000 needed — allowing the referendum to go forward.

Cordish won the Arundel slots license — one of five in the state — and proposed building a casino at the mall, angering some residents who thought slots were destined for Laurel Park.

The petition drive to overturn the necessary zoning was organized by the Maryland Jockey Club, which financed the effort, along with Citizens Against Slots at the Mall, a community group. FieldWorks, a Washington-based company was hired to collect signatures.


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