UPDATED: Montgomery judge dismisses challenge to ambulance fee campaign
Updated, 4:57 p.m.: Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg dismissed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block county campaigning for an ambulance fee.
Greenberg did not address the question of whether the county's campaign activities in recent days and weeks have been legal.
Instead, Greenberg ruled that volunteer firefighters filed their suit too late, saying there is a 10-day statute of limitations for voters to challenge such disputed election activities after they learn about them. In this case, that would mean filing suit no later than Oct. 28, Greenberg ruled. The volunteers filed Oct. 29.
John T. Bentivoglio, an attorney for volunteer fire and rescue personnel who oppose the fee, said the county had long argued that its activities were educational. But in Monday's hearing, Bentivoglio said, the county characterized their earlier activities as political advocacy so the statute of limitations would kick in.
"Their argument is like the child who kills his parents and pleads for mercy because he's an orphan," Bentivoglio said.
Acting County Attorney Marc Hansen said the ruling means the county can proceed with education and advocacy efforts as planned going into Tuesday's vote. The county's activities have been legal, Hansen argued.
"The judge clearly left the field open for the county to continue to be a participant in the debate," Hansen said.
Original post: A Montgomery County judge hearing an emergency challenge to government efforts to campaign for an ambulance fee said Monday that a county-produced campaign flier is intended to intimidate voters.
The government flier says blocking the fee could result in: "Longer Response Times for Ambulances" and "Increased Risk for Our Families and Property," among other things.
"This is not an attempt to do anything other than, in some ways, frankly, intimidate people and get them to vote for the ambulance fee," Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg said.
Acting County Attorney Marc Hansen said after the hearing that the flier was educational, but also served to advocate for the fee.
"You persuade by educating, by informing," Hansen said. "When you say, 'The polar ice caps are melting,' it's information, also intimidating information, sobering information."
The judge also had tough questions for an attorney representing an association of volunteer firefighters that opposes the fee and brought the emergency suit. For instance, Greenberg questioned whether the group met a statutory deadline for filing such a challenge, and he rejected some attempts to include additional evidence.
The Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association sued to block the county from using ambulances and uniformed county workers and taking other actions to campaign for the fee Monday and at polling places Tuesday.
John T. Bentivoglio, the attorney for the volunteer association, said county policy and state law prevent Montgomery's government from enlisting what he warned could be hundreds of employees to campaign for one side in a referendum.
Greenberg said he would issue a ruling Monday afternoon.
This post has been updated since it was first published.
| November 1, 2010; 4:57 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Elections, Michael Laris, Montgomery County | Tags: montgomery ambulance fee
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