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Posted at 5:00 PM ET, 11/ 1/2010

Judge dismisses campaign challenge

By Michael Laris

Update, 4:58 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: Michael Laris reports on the Maryland Politics blog that 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 mean 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."

Read the entire post on the Maryland Politics blog.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Michael Laris  | November 1, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
 
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