Editor’s Note: This is the first in what is anticipated to be a series of stories on this matter. A follow up story will be written following the filing of a response by the defendants in this case.
ELKTON — A lawsuit filed Saturday by Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy against candidate and Republican primary winner Danielle Hornberger and the Cecil County Board of Elections asks for Hornberger to be removed from the ballot for the Nov. 3 general election due to the alleged fraudulent filing of a campaign financial disclosure form and that McCarthy, with the second highest vote total, should be declared the winner.
The lawsuit specifically alleges that Hornberger filed a certificate of candidacy for the Republican nomination for county executive in Cecil County on Nov. 5, 2019. At that time, pursuant to Cecil County Ethics Code section 39-23B, Hornberger was also required to file a financial disclosure statement.
The lawsuit further asserts that pursuant to Cecil County Ethics Code section 39-23E, the county clerk or the board of election supervisors may not accept any certificate of candidacy unless a financial disclosure statement has been filed in its proper form. By not filing such a certificate, Hornberger’s candidacy was void from the start, the complaint alleges and she should have never been on the ballot for Cecil County executive for the June 2 primary election.
The complaint asserts that McCarthy recently discovered the lack of the proper form after a search by the Cecil County Department of Human Resources, who act as the custodian of records for such documents. According to the complaint, the DHR was unable to find a financial disclosure statement from the relevant timeframe. The complaint further asserts that the DHR reached out to the clerk of the circuit court and the board of elections to see if either had received a financial disclosure statement and was informed that neither were in possession of a file statement by Hornberger.
The complaint then asserts that the Deputy Director for the Cecil County Board of Elections Lora Walters communicated with Hornberger and “unexpectedly” a financial disclosure statement signed by Hornberger on Nov. 5, 2019 appeared. That form was then filed with DHS onJuly 7, according to the complaint.
The complaint further asserts that Walters came back upstairs to the DHS offices one and a half hours later with another copy of Hornberger’s financial disclosure form that included a time and date stamp by the BOE of Nov. 5, 2019 at 11:37 a.m. The complaint notes that one statement has a time stamp of July 7, 2020 at 11:10 a.m., while the other has a time stamp of July 7, 2020 at 12:32 p.m.
The complaint alleges that the time and date stamp machine used by the BOE is a manual machine and can therefore be manipulated to change the date and time.
The complaint further asserts that the financial disclosure statement signed by Hornberger did not even exist on Nov. 5, 2019 as the form was changed by the Cecil County Ethics Commission during a meeting on Nov. 18, 2019. The new form came into existence in December of 2019, the complaint asserts.
The complaint asserts that the filing of this form, with a date of Nov. 5, 2019 constitutes a fraud committed upon the BOE, DHR and Cecil County and that Hornberger should be disqualified for the filing of the form.
In addition, the complaint alleges that there is email correspondence between Hornberger and Walters and that those emails have been forwarded to the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office for investigation.
Based upon information received by the Cecil Whig, Walters is no longer employed by the BOE. The BOE’s website now lists Karen Perry as the acting deputy director for the BOE.
The complaint requests that a declaratory judgement be entered that Hornberger’s candidacy is void and that she be removed from the Nov. 2020 election and declared illegally unqualified. The complaint also requests, that McCarthy, as the second highest receiver of votes in the June 2 Republican primary election be declared the winner.
In addition to declaratory relief, the complaint also asks for a writ of mandamus to declare Hornberger’s candidacy void from the beginning. The complaint also makes claims for intentional misrepresentation against both Hornberger and the BOE as well as tortious interference with prospective advantage.
The suit is also seeking a temporary, preliminary and permanent injunction to remove Hornberger from the Nov. 2020 ballot and declaring that her candidacy never existed for purposes of the June 2 election.
Local attorney William Riddle, who represents McCarthy along with Timothy Maloney of the firm Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, said that he hopes the suit can be resolved fairly quickly, with the November election a little over three months away. Riddle said the case has been assigned to retired Queen Anne’ County Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Ross.
The BOE held a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss personnel matters. At the outset of the meeting, Board President Kelly Sengstock said “The Board of Elections does not determine or rule on election outcomes or challenges, our job is to oversee the free and fair election process that is facilitated by the Cecil County Election Office, Ruie (Lavoie) and her staff. The reason for our closed session today is to discuss personnel matters and an ongoing litigation. We have the right and responsibility to those involved to hold this closed session.”
Following a one and a half hour closed session, the board took no action.