Nader takes Pa. ballot case to D.C. appeals court

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WASHINGTON -- Six years after the fight began, Ralph Nader continued Wednesday to litigate his failed attempt to get on the presidential ballot in Pennsylvania in 2004, this time to a trio of skeptical looking judges in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Mr. Nader was ordered to pay $81,102 in legal fees to Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith after losing a petition fight, but he has challenged the ruling and claimed that he didn't get a fair hearing in Pennsylvania, as the case became entwined in the Bonusgate investigation of state employees misusing taxpayer funds.

During their questioning of attorneys, the D.C. judges -- hearing the case because Mr. Nader's bank accounts are in Washington -- at times seemed reluctant to issue a ruling in conflict with Pennsylvania's courts.

"You sought relief in Pennsylvania," Judge Stephen H. Glickman told Mr. Nader's attorney, Oliver Hall. "Why isn't that the end of the matter?"

The reason, Mr. Hall argued, is that the Pennsylvania courts did not adequately hear out new evidence that emerged from the Bonusgate hearings, including testimony that Reed Smith attorney Efrem Grail knew the petition-challenge effort the attorney led included state employees. It was not clear from testimony in the Nader trial what Mr. Grail knew regarding those working on the challenges.

Mr. Hall included Bonusgate testimony in his final appeal to the state Supreme Court; the appeal was rejected in a one-sentence motion.

Mr. Hall also claimed that the Supreme Court justices' ties to Reed Smith give the appearance of impropriety. The firm represented former Chief Justice Ralph Cappy in ethics matters, at one time employed current Chief Justice Ronald Castille, and gave campaign contributions to other justices.

Reed Smith's Nathan Fennessey argued that the case has been amply litigated in Pennsylvania and there is no reason for the D.C. court to overturn rulings from another state. Also, he noted, there have been no criminal charges filed against Mr. Grail.

The political charges, Mr. Fennessey said, don't "change the fact that they didn't have the signatures."

Judges Glickman, Vanessa Ruiz and Phyllis D. Thompson will issue a ruling at an undetermined later date.

"The District of Columbia courts, if they rule in favor of Reed Smith, are validating the results of a criminal enterprise," Mr. Nader said in an interview after the hearing.

The lengthy fight isn't about the money, Mr. Nader and Mr. Hall said; they hope a victory can make a statement about access to the ballot. The Commonwealth Court in 2006 also ruled that Green Party Senate candidate Carl Romanelli must pay legal fees after enough of his signatures were declared bogus that he was tossed from the ballot.

"It's a modern-day poll tax," Mr. Hall said.


Daniel Malloy: dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 1-202-445-9980.


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