Judge Rules Danielle Hornberger Stays on Cecil Co Exec Ballot, Despite “Troubling” Irregularities in Campaign Filings; Says McCarthy Should Have Sued Sooner

August 18, 2020

A visiting Circuit Court judge ruled late Tuesday (8/18/2020) that Danielle Hornberger can remain on the Republican ballot line in the election for Cecil County Executive, saying that current Executive Alan McCarthy should have filed his challenge to the validity of her candidacy sooner.

Judge Thomas G. Ross, a retired Queen Anne’s County judge handling the case here on “senior status” in the state court system, cited “troubling” irregularities in Hornberger’s filing of required candidacy documents But he concluded there was no proof that Hornberger conspired in the apparent falsification and forgery of several official documents required for a candidate to qualify for the ballot. He also held that there was no proof that McCarthy, a distant second place finisher to Hornberger in the primary, would have won the election if her candidacy had been filed properly.

McCarthy had asked the court to void the June 2 primary, and declare him the winner or, alternatively, turn the decision on who should appear on the November general election ballot for the Republicans over to the Cecil County Republican Central Committee.

Hornberger testified in the Thursday 8/13/2020 court hearing in the case that she was uncertain if she had filed a required financial disclosure form last November when she formally declared her candidacy, as required by state law, and had no personal copies of the important documents. She told the court that she was informed by Lora Walters, the former deputy director of the local Board of Elections (BOE), on 7/6/2020 to submit a new form and that a document she filed on 7/7/2020 at Walters’ request would be “backdated” to 11/5/2019 so as to appear to have been filed on time.

Hornberger told the court she did not think the backdating was “fishy” and just thought it was “lingo” and reacted that the falsification was “Whatever.”

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on court hearing here: http://ceciltimes.com/2020/08/state-prosecutor-opens-criminal-probe-in-hornberger-campaign-case-court-told-ex-election-aide-denies-forgery-judge-to-rule-next-week/ ]

[UPDATE: In his ruling, the judge was critical of Hornberger’s nonchalance about compliance with state law in her candidacy and required document filings: “At best, Hornberger put her head in the sand and failed to exercise the due diligence that is expected of a candidate for public office,” the judge wrote.]

Hornberger reacted on her social media page to the judge’s ruling on Tuesday, saying:

“The Justice System worked. The court saw through lies and slander and a weak and feeble attempt by McCarthy to continue his reign of terror. The people voted overwhelmingly to get rid of that type of tyrannical behavior and elect someone who truly believes in duty to others. I’m confident they will vote for me again in November and I hope Mr. McCarthy quits all of this nonsense so we can get back to working for the betterment of Cecil County and it’s [sic] citizens.”.

Jeff Kase, a Democrat, is on the ballot in November to challenge the GOP nominee.

McCarthy told CECIL TIMES he was “surprised” by the judge’s ruling, especially the key element claiming that he should have filed his challenge sooner, but said he would consult with his lawyer, Timothy Maloney, to consider further options.

The judge held that Hornberger’s candidacy was flawed by violations of state election laws, and her “candidacy should not have been accepted and certified“ by the Board of Elections until she complied with required financial and campaign treasurer documentary requirements. But he went on to overlook those violations and based his decision on time limits for court filings and his conclusion that McCarthy cannot prove he would have won if Hornberger had complied with all the rules.

The primary election was held on 6/2/2020, after the state delayed the election from its previous April date due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly all of the voting conducted by mail-in ballots. McCarthy filed his lawsuit on 7/25/2020, ten days after learning that Walters had been dismissed from her local BOE job and inquiries were being conducted into her interactions with Hornberger.

But the judge said that although the 10-day standard for filing a complaint after learning of the problems was met, the same law held that McCarthy also had to comply with an earlier deadline to file a complaint: seven days after the election results were certified on 6/12/2020.

The judge also sided with Hornberger’s lawyer, Dirk Haire’s, argument that the court should consider “the balance of convenience,” or “whether greater injury would be done to the defendant [Hornberger] by granting the injunction than would result from its refusal.” Hornberger would suffer “irreparable harm” and the “public interest” would not be served, Haire argued, and the judge agreed.

Haire is the chairman of the state Republican Party and a close political ally of US Rep Andy Harris (R-1), who bankrolled Hornberger’s campaign and those of her husband, state Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35).

While the judge acknowledged that Hornberger failed to comply with elections laws and her candidacy should never have been certified for the election ballot, he stated that he did not believe she was “complicit” in the actions allegedly taken by Walters to falsify and backdate required documents that Hornberger had failed to file in time to meet required deadlines.

In other words, the ruling concluded, Hornberger ignored the law but didn’t cover up her failures and just accepted other people covering up for her.

The Office of the State Prosecutor (OSP) is conducting a criminal investigation of the matters raised in the campaign documents and their handling, the court was told during last week’s hearing.

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