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Judge rules Ivan Bates can run in Baltimore state's attorney election

A Baltimore judge ruled Friday that defense attorney Ivan Bates has lived in the city since 2016 and therefore qualifies as the third candidate in the race for state’s attorney.

Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill affirmed Bates’ candidacy in the second of two dueling election lawsuits. The judge threw out Tuesday a similar challenge to the residency qualifications of Bates’ rival.

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Bates has maintained that he lives, practices law and volunteers in Baltimore. The lawsuit, he said, was “political theater.”

“My opponent was the one behind this,” Bates said. “I always knew that I met the requirements. I’ve always known my heart has been in Baltimore.”

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State law requires a candidate for state’s attorney to have lived two continuous years in Baltimore before the November election.

Bates and his political rival, Thiru Vignarajah, both found themselves defending their residency qualifications in lawsuits this week. The judge ruled both men are qualified to run.

Still, the lawsuit escalated tensions between the two challengers seeking to unseat incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Before a hearing Thursday, Bates accused Vignarajah of dispatching campaign workers to knock on his neighbors’ doors. Their presence startled his family, Bates said.

A spokesman for the Vignarajah campaign said no workers went to Bates’ actual home.

Attorneys for both men argued for hours Thursday over whether tax and utility bills, property deeds, car registration and voting records proved Bates lives in Howard County or the Locust Point neighborhood of South Baltimore. Bates testified to owning a third home he rented out in Reservoir Hill.

The judge found Bates lived in Baltimore since the late 1990s, moved for four years to Howard County, then returned to the city in early 2016. Fletcher-Hill said he was persuaded by records that Bates changed his driver’s license and voter registration to reflect the Locust Point home in early 2016.

Such lawsuits aren’t uncommon in contentious elections and attorneys face a high standard in proving wrong a candidate’s claims of residency. Fletcher-Hill told the courtroom “intent prevails,” though important factors include where someone sleeps and votes.

Vignarajah spoke briefly after the ruling.

“The judge acknowledged it was a close call and an important issue,” he said. “We respect his decision.”

Bates was sued over his residency qualifications by Kristien Miller, a Canton woman who donated $500 to Vignarajah’s campaign.

Vignarajah, meanwhile, was sued by local activist Christopher Comeau. During Tuesday’s hearing, Vignarajah testified that he had lived in Howard County with his wife, but they separated amicably about three years ago and he moved into the condo they owned in Federal Hill.

Both men are challenging Mosby, who became one of the youngest top prosecutors in the country when elected four years ago at the age of 34.

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All are running as Democrats, and because there is no Republican candidate, the race will be decided by the June 26 primary.

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