Thursday, May 19, 2005

Ohio Supreme Court Won't Sanction Lawyers

Ohio Supreme Court Won't Sanction Lawyers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ending one of the last fights from the contentious 2004 presidential campaign, the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday declined to punish four attorneys who had challenged the results in court.

Chief Justice Thomas Moyer ruled against Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's attempt to have the lawyers sanctioned for filing "a meritless claim" against the vote that gave President Bush a win in Ohio and, as a result, enough electoral votes to win a second term in the White House.

In legal documents filed with the state Supreme Court, the lawyers had said the challenge they filed on behalf of 37 voters included enough evidence of voting irregularities to back up their allegations of widespread fraud. They later withdrew the claim.

Petro, a Republican, asked for sanctions against lawyers Cliff Arnebeck, Robert Fitrakis, Susan Truitt and Peter Peckarsky. If the court had sanctioned the lawyers, they could have been forced to repay attorney's fees and court costs.

Moyer, acting under the court's power to assign election-related complaints to a single justice, said that while the court has the authority to sanction attorneys, the speed with which elections must be challenged allows the court some leeway.

"The General Assembly could have expressly authorized courts to sanction those who pursue frivolous election contests. It has not," Moyer, a Republican, wrote in his decision.

President Bush beat Democratic Sen. John Kerry by about 118,000 votes in Ohio, which turned out to be the pivotal state in the Nov. 2 election. The lawyers' election challenge was withdrawn in early January, with those contesting the results saying it was clear their argument would be dismissed as moot with Bush set to be inaugurated.