Former state Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks is supporting voter efforts to remove his name from the primary election ballot in June after the Maryland State Board of Elections refused to do so.
In a letter sent Wednesday to U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, Oaks declared through his attorneys he has ceased campaigning and intends to decline the nomination should he receive it. Attached to the letter is an emergency petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed Monday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. Oaks signed an affidavit supporting the petition.
The voters’ lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Anne Arundel County, asks the court to order the board to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot and declare unconstitutional the law that “freezes” the primary-election-day ballot almost four months before an election.
Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and honest services wire fraud last month, the same day he formalized his resignation from the Senate. He will be sentenced in July.
Bennett told Oaks when he pleaded guilty March 29 that the former lawmaker would be precluded from holding public office. But Lucius T. Outlaw III, Oaks’ public defender, asked in the letter Wednesday for the judge’s clarification.
“To date since the re-arraignment, defense counsel has been unable to locate a legal basis confirming the Court’s advisement that Mr. Oaks is barred from holding political office in the future as a result of his conviction in this case,” Outlaw wrote. “However, out of an abundance of caution, and in deference to the Court’s advisement and Mr. Oaks’s desire to spare the people of District 41 and the Maryland Senate the confusion and uncertainty of his continuing candidacy, Mr. Oaks is exploring and pursing ways to withdraw his name from the primary election ballot.”
The deadline for Oaks to withdraw his candidacy was March 1, two days after the filing deadline. Outlaw, in the letter, said he has confirmed with the Board of Elections that Oaks cannot withdraw his name now, and there are no other means for the board to remove his name.
The voters’ lawsuit claims Oaks will not be an eligible candidate by November’s general election and contends the statutory deadline for freezing the ballot is unconstitutional because it is too far in advance of the election.
H. Mark Stichel, a lawyer for the voters, said Oaks’ affidavit in his case changes the voters’ arguments because “you have someone who has requested to have his name withdrawn and it is a near certainty that even if he is not qualified now he will be in July and will not be able to serve as a state senator.”
The Maryland Constitution prohibits a person from holding an office created by the constitution if they are not a registered voter in the state on the date of their election or appointment. Election law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony and serving a sentence of imprisonment from voting, and the bylaws of the state Democratic Party provides that a member of the Democratic State Central Committee is disqualified for office and removed as a member upon a felony conviction.
If Oaks wins the primary, there is a process for him to decline the nomination which would allow the Maryland Democratic Central Committee to choose a replacement. But Stichel said that would deprive the district’s voters the chance to select an eligible candidate themselves.
“It takes the decision-making away from the electorate as a whole and puts it in a more limited group,” said Stichel, a principal at Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore.