Abrams sues over Perez’s eligibility to enter race

Lawsuit also names state elections board and administrator

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stephen N. Abrams, a Republican candidate for comptroller and a county school board member, has filed a lawsuit challenging County Councilman Thomas E. Perez’s qualifications to run for attorney general.

The lawsuit, filed July 13 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and naming Perez, state elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone and the state elections board, asks whether Perez meets the constitutional requirement that the attorney general must have practiced law in Maryland for at least 10 years.

Perez dismissed Abrams’ claims.

‘‘It is another frivolous lawsuit by a desperate Republican who wants the election decided in the courtroom rather than at the ballot box,” said Perez (D-Dist. 5) of Takoma Park.

In the lawsuit, Abrams argues that ‘‘Perez has not practiced law in Maryland for 10 years; in fact, Perez was not admitted to the bar of Maryland until 2001. If Perez had been practicing law in Maryland before he was admitted to the Maryland bar, he would have been violating Maryland law prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law.”

Perez formally entered the attorney general’s race in June after securing an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office that he was qualified to run based on his 10 years as a federal prosecutor. He called the question of his eligibility ‘‘yesterday’s news.”

‘‘Practice in Maryland authorized by federal and state law counts toward the durational experience requirement in the Maryland Constitution, even if that work was performed while the attorney was not a member of the Maryland bar,” Assistant Attorney General Robert N. McDonald said in the opinion.

Abrams’s lawsuit challenges McDonald’s reasoning.

‘‘The opinion of the attorney general disregarded the plain language of the Maryland Constitution and, in effect, rewrote the constitutional qualification in a manner that would permit Perez to become a candidate for attorney general in 2006,” Abrams’ suit says.

‘‘If the state constitution is changed, it’s the legislature or the court that should do it, not an administrative agency,” Abrams said.

Abrams is asking for a temporary restraining order stopping Lamone and the state board from putting Perez on the ballot and declaring Perez ineligible to serve as attorney general.

Lamone could not be reached for comment.

Circuit Court Judge Michael E. Loney denied the restraining order, but found that ‘‘the complaint raises substantial and important issues on the merits that warrant full adversary hearing.”

Perez, Lamone and the state board have until Friday to respond. A hearing may be scheduled as soon as next week.

The lawsuit is Abrams’ latest attempt to stir the state’s political pot. He entered the comptroller’s race earlier this year without the blessing of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) who had said he would not support a Republican challenge to Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D). Abrams said he is running in case Schaefer lost in the primary to Democratic challenger Del. Peter V. R. Franchot (Dist. 20) of Takoma Park.

‘‘I’m one of these corny civic types,” Abrams said, explaining why he filed the lawsuit. ‘‘I sort of believe that we should follow the law.”

Perez said he is confident that the attorney general’s opinion will hold up.

Abrams and Perez squared off in September after Perez, then County Council president, brought a proposal to offer imported Canadian prescription drugs to county employees before the county school board.

‘‘Steve Abrams led the opposition to my effort to secure lower-cost prescription drugs for working families,” Perez said. ‘‘I have continuously fought on behalf of working families and Steve Abrams is always on the other side.”