- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

A Montgomery County school board member running for state comptroller filed a lawsuit this week to challenge County Council member Tom Perez’s eligibility to be attorney general.

Stephen Abrams, a Republican and the school board member, states in the suit that Mr. Perez, a Democrat, has not practiced law in Maryland for at least 10 years, as required by the state constitution.

“If I’m elected comptroller, the attorney general is my lawyer,” said Mr. Abrams, also a lawyer who has worked on Capitol Hill and as a financial adviser. “I want to make sure the attorney general is the one who follows the law, not the one who makes the law. It’s just a quaint notion that I have.”

Mr. Abrams said he filed the suit, in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, because other people were talking about the requirement but doing nothing about it.

“So I did,” he said.

Mr. Perez did not join the Maryland bar until 2001, but argues that he has satisfied the constitutional requirement by having been a federal attorney living in Maryland.

“You can be considered to be practicing law in Maryland when you are working for the Department of Justice, which he did, and working on cases in Maryland, and he did,” said Luke Clippinger, Mr. Perez’s campaign manager.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, a Democrat who is retiring, issued an advisory opinion agreeing with Mr. Perez’s argument and stating that he was qualified for the office.

Mr. Abrams said the opinion has resulted in widespread discontent in legal and business circles, with members asking how the state’s top justice official could disregard what many think is the plain meaning of the law.

“It’s black and white in the law that [Perez] can’t run,” said a county elected official who requested anonymity.

Janet S. Eveleth, communications director for the Maryland State Bar Association, said she could not comment on Mr. Abrams’ lawsuit, but confirmed that an attorney general candidate would have to have been “a practicing member of the Maryland bar” for 10 years.

Mr. Perez, elected to the County Council in 2002, is running in the Democratic primary against county State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and Baltimore lawyer Stuart O. Simms, former state’s attorney for Baltimore City.

Scott L. Rolle, Frederick County State’s attorney, is unopposed in the Republican primary.

Mr. Abrams predicted that “voices in the Maryland state bar, [will be] either joining in or opining on this lawsuit. You might find some other interest groups opining on it, some folks out of the business community.”

Mr. Perez’s fellow council member, Council President George Leventhal, questioned Mr. Abrams’ motives.

“Steve Abrams holds so many grudges,” said Mr. Leventhal, a Democrat running for re-election. “I don’t think he’s got room for them in his mansion in Potomac.”

Political observers said they will have a tough time predicting what the state’s highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals, will decide if the Anne Arundel court rules against Mr. Perez.

“There is no court more political than the Maryland Court of Appeals,” said a legal specialist.

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