An Anne Arundel County judge rejected yesterday a legal challenge to the eligibility of Montgomery County Councilman Thomas E. Perez to serve as attorney general if elected, saying the Democratic candidate meets the constitutional requirement of 10 years of legal experience in the state.
Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner's decision concurred with a June opinion issued by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., whose impending retirement leaves the office without an incumbent for the first time in two decades.
Perez, one of three Democrats seeking his party's nomination, had sought Curran's opinion.
Stephen N. Abrams, a Montgomery County Republican with whom Perez has disagreed in the past, filed a lawsuit challenging Perez's qualifications. The suit alleges that Perez's years as a federal lawyer did not count toward legal practice in Maryland. A former federal prosecutor and civil rights attorney whose work included issues in Maryland, Perez was not a member of the Maryland State Bar until 2001.
Hackner ruled against Abrams yesterday immediately after hearing arguments from both sides. He based his decision, he said, largely on a 1968 University of Maryland law review article that examined the practice of law in Maryland.
At the time the Maryland Constitution was being drafted in the 1860s, the statewide process for admission to the bar was decades off, Hackner said. Instead, the judge said, the article noted that the attorney general would have asked individual courts if he could appear there.
"During that time, we didn't have anything near what we have in the way of a uniform Maryland bar exam," Hackner said.
Abrams, a Republican candidate for comptroller, said he is "not inclined to appeal" but first will read the law review article that Hackner cited. He said he would decide in a day.
Perez sat silently between his lawyers during the hearing, then smiled as the proceeding ended. He said he had been "very confident" that he would prevail in court.
"I look forward to continuing our conversation about qualifications, because this campaign is all about qualifications," Perez said.
Perez and Abrams, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education, have disagreed over local matters -- notably Perez's leadership in promoting the purchase by Montgomery school and county workers of prescription drugs from Canada. Abrams said the reimportation proposal contradicts federal law.
State elections administrator Linda H. Lamone said she was pleased with Hackner's ruling, saying it allows preparations for the Sept. 12 primary to proceed.
The ruling continues the three-way race among Perez, Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and former Baltimore City State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, whose statewide profile was elevated when Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan selected him as a running mate before dropping out of the governor's race.
The primary winner will face Republican candidate Scott L. Rolle, the Frederick County state's attorney, in the November general election.