E-Alerts & Press Releases

PJC Files Brief in Election Referendum Case

On August 20, 2008, Murnaghan Fellow Gregory Care filed an amicus brief in the Maryland Court of Appeals in the election referendum case of Doe v. Montgomery County Board of Elections. The PJC represented themselves along with CASA de Maryland and the Maryland Disability Law Center on the brief. The PJC’s brief has been posted on the Court’s webpage dedicated to particularly notable cases on the docket: http://mdcourts.gov/coappeals/highlightedcases/index.html. This case concerns a referendum petition that was filed by opponents of a bill passed in Montgomery County that adds transgendered individuals to the groups protected by the county’s anti-discrimination laws. The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously to adopt the bill, which was intended to address unemployment, poor housing, poverty, lack of safety, and other ills suffered by transgendered individuals. Despite this strong gesture of support, a group called Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government filed a petition for a referendum on the bill, which would subject the law to a vote in the November general election before it becomes effective. After the Montgomery County Board of Elections certified the petition as sufficient, a diverse group of county voters filed a lawsuit challenging the petition’s sufficiency. The lawsuit cited numerous problems that would render thousands of signatures, and the petition, invalid. A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge agreed that there were an insufficient number of signatures for the petition to be certified, but ruled that the petition challengers filed their lawsuit raising that issue too late. The PJC’s amicus brief in support of the petition challengers addressed the issue of the lawsuit’s timeliness. The trial court had ruled that a lawsuit challenging a petition must be filed within the same 10-day limitations period that applies to petition sponsors seeking judicial review of a determination made by the Board of Elections. The PJC’s brief argues that it is contrary to the intent of the Legislature and unfair to expect petition challenges to be filed within 10 days of a Board of Elections decision in a process that is purely non-public. Because no one but the petition sponsors are notified of the existence or status of a petition, it is unreasonable to hold the general public to an exceptionally narrow limitations period. The PJC argued that the more flexible doctrine of laches should apply, allowing for a case-by-case determination to be made regarding timeliness. The PJC also highlighted for the Court the diversity of issues addressed by past referenda and the resultant array of interests held by Marylanders of all walks of life that are affected by such measures. Moreover, the issues involved very likely would motivate opposition to a referendum petition, which would stifled by an unreasonably short 10-day limitations period for such challenges.

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