Ralph Nader appeared this morning with his attorney, Oliver Hall, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who argued that Nader’s 2004 presidential campaign had been “drained” and “distracted” by a coordinated effort to neutralize him with lawsuits. Hall, a solo practitioner, contended that the appellees, including the Democratic National Committee, the Kerry campaign, and the Service Employees International Union, conspired with state-level Democratic Party-affiliated organizations to file 29 lawsuits in 18 states in a ploy to overwhelm Nader’s efforts to access ballots and to bankrupt him financially. That ploy amounted to an abuse of process, he charged.
A three-judge panel composed of Chief Judge David Sentelle, Judge David Tatel, and Judge Thomas Griffith heard arguments this morning.
“I thought you were going to argue that in 2004 the Democratic Party wasn’t organized enough to have a conspiracy,” Griffith interjected during Hall’s argument. Despite his light-hearted gibe, the judges grilled Hall for 43 minutes in what was scheduled as a 15-minute argument.
Their questions centered on two issues: the statute of limitations on the torts of abuse of process and malicious prosecution alleged in the complaint and whether the 29 lawsuits, 24 of which were ultimately dismissed, could be considered “objectively baseless” under a test for abuse of process.
By far the most inquisitive judge during the arguments, Tatel questioned the DNC’s lawyer, Joseph Sandler of Sandler, Reiff & Young, on whether all 29 of the lawsuits filed in the “conspiracy,” would have to have been dismissed for them to qualify as objectively baseless. Each lawsuit would have to be explored on a case-by-case basis, Sandler argued, which they hadn’t been in the complaint.
Judge Ricardo Urbina granted a motion to dismiss the case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in May 2008. He had agreed with the defense team’s argument that the DNC and its co-defendants had a First Amendment right to challenge Nader’s petitions to get on state ballots.
After the hearing, Nader explained why he brought the case. “There has to be some judicial standard to protect our First Amendment right to petition to run for office that prevents a more affluent and powerful opponent from destroying a campaign,” he said.