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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ralph Nader: Blackwell Was Nakedly Partisan

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- The lawyers representing consumer activist Ralph Nader in his legal odyssey to wrest a $1 damage judgment (yep, a buck) from Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell now say Blackwell handled the duties of his office with a ''politically partisan pedigree." It is a view of the outgoing Republican's operation that many political critics have voiced over the years, including Jennifer Brunner, the Democrat elected to succeed Blackwell in January.

As the state's chief election official, Blackwell kicked Nader's third party candidacy for president off the 2004 ballot. Nader filed suit in federal court last month, where state lawyers have attempted to have it dismissed on grounds that Blackwell is immune from action because he behaved as a public officer fulfilling his legal responsibilities.

But Mark R. Brown, a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, and Michael P. Cassidy, a lawyer in Independence, a Cleveland suburb, shot back Monday in a written court filing that Blackwell didn't seem to be an official concerned with conducting proceedings that were sealed air-tight against possible bias. (Southern District of Ohio, 2:06-cv-821.)

''Granted, defendant could (ital original) qualify for absolute immunity if he was engaged in a judicial function. But defendant's politically partisan pedigree makes this unlikely. For it to happen, defendant would not only have to hold an adjudicatory hearing, exceptional procedural safeguards woud have to surround that hearing to prevent partisan politics from infecting defendant's determinations,'' Brown and Cassidy said in their filing.

Blackwell contends he gave Nader the boot after a fair and open hearing conducted by an attorney in his office. Nader's lawyers weren't buying. "For all anyone knows, the staff attorney's decision was dictated by defendant,'' they said. ''Whether this happened is not the point. The point is that without independence, hearing officers suffer not only an appearance of partiality, but also a real risk of influence."

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