Both challengers in Baltimore State's Attorney's race sued over residency qualifications

The two attorneys challenging Marilyn Mosby to be Baltimore’s next top prosecutor are due in court this week to argue they have lived long enough in the city to hold the office.

Maryland law requires state’s attorneys live at least two years in a jurisdiction before taking office there. Citizens have filed lawsuits challenging the residency of Ivan Bates, a longtime defense lawyer, and Thiru Vignarajah, a former deputy attorney general for Maryland.

The plaintiffs are asking judges to ban the two men from the ballot. Such orders would clear a path for Mosby to breeze to her second term in office. All are running as Democrats, and because there is no Republican candidate in the race, it will be decided by the June primary election.

Both Bates and Vignarajah own more than one home. At issue is which one counts as their principal residence.

“This suit is frivolous and it won’t distract me from focusing on the crisis of crime Baltimore is facing and sharing our solutions with voters,” Vignarajah said.

Bates called the lawsuit a distraction from his efforts to quell Baltimore’s street violence.

“The young lady who filed the lawsuit is a supporter of my opponent and gave them $500,” Bates said. “I’m like, come on now. People are dying and you’re trying to play games.”

Kristien Miller of Canton sued Bates two weeks ago, noting comments he made to The Baltimore Sun as well as property records that show he bought a Howard County home in 2012 and a home in Baltimore‘s Locust Point neighborhood in 2016. Miller did not return a message through her attorney.

Bates told The Sun last year that he had moved back into the city in early 2017. To be state’s attorney, he would have to be a resident of Baltimore since 2016.

“His March 2017 statement in The Sun article has not been clarified, corrected, or retracted. It is direct evidence that he is ineligible to run for state’s attorney,” Miller’s attorney wrote in the lawsuit.

Bates says he was misquoted in the article. The Baltimore Sun stands by its reporting.

Property records show he designated the Locust Point property his principal address in March 2017, according to the lawsuit. The water bill was $5 last month at that home, according to city records.

A defense attorney for 22 years, Bates says his parents live in the Laurel home and he lives in Locust Point. In fact, he says, he has lived in Baltimore since the 1990s.

“I moved here Aug. 3, 1995, and I’ve never given Baltimore City up as my domicile,” Bates said.

He was previously sued over his residency qualifications by another state’s attorney candidate, Charles “Chad” Curlett, who dropped out of the race. On Monday, Curlett said he now believes Bates meets the requirements.

“In all likelihood, a court would resolve this in his favor,” Curlett said.

The lawsuit against Bates is scheduled for a hearing Thursday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, Vignarajah has been sued by local activist Christopher Comeau. In the lawsuit, Comeau claims property records show Vignarajah has lived in Howard County since at least 2010.

The records show also show Vignarajah has owned a condo in Federal Hill for more than a decade.

But Comeau, in his lawsuit, claims traffic tickets list Vignarajah’s home as in Howard County.

Vignarajah has answered the lawsuit by providing the courts with voter registration, bank and tax records that list his address in Federal Hill.

He has asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit.

“Defendant does not dispute that he and his spouse previously resided in Howard County, before he alone returned to Baltimore City to his Light Street residence. This is also consistent with his spouse’s property, voting, and motor vehicle records,” he wrote in his defense.

Vignarajah declined to comment further. His hearing is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Mosby became one of the youngest top prosecutors in the country when elected in 2014 at the age of 34.

As of the most recent campaign fundraising reporting in January, Vignarajah had $412,000 on hand, including $175,000 in contributions and a $250,000 loan he gave his campaign.

Mosby reported about $285,000 on hand after raising about $330,000 over the past year. Bates had $184,000 on hand after raising $250,000.

The primary election is June 26.

This story has been updated.

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