September 20, 2004
Judge Withdraws Decision Blocking Nader From Ballot (1:15 p.m.)
On Again, Off Again: New Judge Blocks Nader From N.M. Ballot
By Leslie Hoffman
The Associated Press
A judge Monday blocked Ralph Nader from appearing on New Mexico's ballot in a legal and political tug-of-war that has kept the candidate's status in limbo for days.
State District Judge Theresa Baca ruled that Nader does not qualify as an independent candidate in New Mexico because he is running as the nominee for minor parties in other states.
"He is not without party affiliation," Baca said.
The judge did not rule on another point of contention in the lawsuit filed by state Democrats whether Nader's nominating petitions had enough valid signatures of registered voters.
Nader campaign officials said they would appeal to the state Supreme Court. Having his name on the ballot is "the only way for other voices to be heard," said Carol Miller, who coordinated the signature-gathering effort for Nader in New Mexico.
Miller also expressed concern at how quickly Baca reached her decision given that she had taken over the case only hours earlier when another judge recused herself.
"This was a very brief session. We had no time to prepare," Miller said.
Democrats, however, praised the ruling.
"I'm gratified that this Republican-backed effort to put Ralph Nader on the ballot has been ruled once again illegitimate under state law," state Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim said.
Despite Nader's pending appeal, Denise Lamb, director of the Bureau of Elections, said her office ordered ballots to be printed after learning of Baca's decision.
"We called the printer and told them to start up those presses," Lamb said.
Under state law, absentee ballots were to have been sent starting Monday to voters overseas most of them military personnel. The state had halted the printing of those ballots pending Monday's legal action.
Lamb said the ballots for overseas voters could start being sent out from county clerks' offices within 24 hours.
Baca's ruling Monday was similar to one Friday by Judge Wendy York, who also blocked Nader from the ballot. But York withdrew that decision earlier Monday and recused herself from the case amid criticism over a $1,000 contribution she made to the Kerry presidential campaign in April. In a letter, York said she made the move "out of an abundance of caution, and in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety."
Republicans were also critical of Baca, bringing up allegations of partisanship similar to those raised against York.
GOP Rep. Daniel Foley of Roswell said Baca should have disclosed that she had contributed $250 in January to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"She's obviously a partisan Democrat, which is OK. . . . By the code of judicial conduct she should disclose herself and recuse herself and she has failed to do that," Foley said.
Baca, a former Metropolitan Court judge, was appointed to the district court bench in May 1993 by Democratic Gov. Bruce King.
On the Net:
Nader campaign: www.voteNader.org
N.M. Secretary of State: www.sos.state.nm.us
Associated Press Writer Deborah Baker in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.