Cordish lawyers assail validity of petition signatures

Posted: 8:07 pm Thu, May 27, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business

ANNAPOLIS—A Cordish Cos. subsidiary began its exhaustive closing argument Thursday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in an effort to show that the county elections board erroneously approved a petition to put the company’s planned slots casino to a vote this fall.

At issue are the 22,967 signatures validated by the Anne Arundel County Board of Elections out of 40,408 collected during the petition drive led by casino opponents, including the Maryland Jockey Club, this spring. The casino is to be located near the Arundel Mills mall and is planned by Baltimore developer David Cordish.

Cordish subsidiary PPE Casino Resorts Maryland LLC is suing the county elections board, challenging the process by which the petition signatures were verified.

In painstakingly detailed closing arguments, PPE Casino Resorts attorney Stephen P. Anthony flashed images of petition signatures on a screen to point to “squiggles” and “loops” showing what he called hard-to-read signatures in the approved petitions.

“The question is, could the county board determine that’s the signature over the line of the printed or typed name?” Anthony said. “It’s impossible to do that. It’s impossible to read that as a signature and compare it.”

Anthony spent two hours detailing other “fatal defects” in the petition signatures that he said made those signatures invalid. Those defects included missing or incorrect telephone numbers, printed names (to accompany the signature), home addresses and incomplete dates (missing a month, day or year).

“The state and county court have suggested that this is an overly strict requirement [to have all the information completed and accurate],” he said. “But that’s not what the statute says.”

PPE Casino Resorts attorneys also contended that the elections board’s process by which it validated petition signatures was too lax and did not comply with state and county laws.

Anthony Herman, who began the closing arguments just after 1:30 p.m. and spoke for an hour, said certain steps in the board’s approval process are flawed. He said the affidavit handed in by petition signature collectors did not comply with the county charter because having “personal knowledge and belief” of the signatures’ validity was not a high enough standard of accuracy.

Not all the approved signatures exactly match the registered voter list, he added.

“It is not proper for the board to ignore a requirement of law because … it believes that a requirement of law was an anachronism or it was trivial,” Herman said.

During his argument, 4-foot-by-3-foot poster boards with blow-ups of the affidavits were presented to underline his point.

The detail in the closing arguments followed unsuccessful efforts by PPE Casino Resorts during the hearing’s prior three days to introduce evidence or to question certain officials, including Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

The club, which operates Laurel and Pimlico race tracks, has said it believes the casino would put Laurel Park, located 13 miles south of Arundel Mills mall, out of business. The Daily Record reported last month that the club spent nearly $660,000 in funding the signature-gathering effort.

Instead of a trial, the case is an administrative review, meaning that only the elections board’s review of the petition materials will be considered by Judge Ronald A. Silkworth.

PPE Casino Resorts attorneys also took issue with the decision issued by the county elections board in approving the signatures, saying it did not provide an explanation or reasoning for its approval.

The attorneys noted that if 4,175 of the more than 23,000 approved signatures were rejected, the petition would fail. PPE attorneys believe more than 9,000 signatures should be invalid.

After court was adjourned for the day at 4:30 p.m. Herman said his team was being very exacting in closing arguments because it wants Silkworth to appreciate the “magnitude” of the inconsistencies.

“We want to give him a sense of how many and how significant these defects are,” he said.

The hearing is scheduled to resume Friday morning with PPE attorneys concluding their arguments, to be followed by closing arguments by the state and county boards of elections and by Citizens Against Slots at the Mall.

Silkworth is expected to issue a written ruling on the case, attorneys said.