By Glynis Kazanjian
Glynis@marylandreporter.com

Petitions T-shirtCasa de Maryland is expected to submit tens of thousands of contested Maryland Dream Act referendum signatures to the Office of the Attorney General today (Friday). This marks the first deadline imposed by the courts since the immigrant advocacy group sued the State Board of Elections in early August.

Casa, along with eight plaintiffs including two illegal immigrants, is hoping to disqualify enough petition signatures to keep the new law allowing undocumented residents to receive in-state college tuition rates from appearing on the 2012 general election ballot.

The State Board turned over the names, addresses and signatures of all petition signers in July to Casa in response to a Public Information Act request. The request followed the State Board’s certification of 108,000 signatures — more than twice the number required — clearing the way for the issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants to be placed on the ballot the following year.

The clock will now start ticking for what will likely be one the most contentious legal battles in Maryland throughout this year and next.

“It’s really quite an extraordinary circumstance where you have people unlawfully here trying to prevent a democratic process from moving forward,” said Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch, a non-partisan government accountability education foundation based in Washington, D.C.

Judicial Watch, who will also receive the list of signatures from Casa, is representing MDPetitions.com, an organization named in the lawsuit that produced the state’s first computer generated online petition forms.

“Whose side are we going to be on here?” Fitton asked. “Citizens who want a say in how their tax dollars are spent, or the illegal aliens who want to prevent citizens from being the final arbiters of how their tax money is spent?”

About 60,000 signatures likely to be challenged

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Darsie said it is likely Casa will challenge about 60,000 signatures of the 108,000 the State Board certified. Specifically Darsie said the group will contest petition pages that have bill language stapled to them, rather than printed on the signature forms.

At the beginning of the signature collection process last April, State Board spokeswoman Donna Duncan said stapled petition forms were acceptable, but Darsie said the issue could still be vulnerable to a legal challenge.

Another way Casa could try to stop the referendum, Darsie said, is by disqualifying enough signatures required for the first benchmark on May 31, when one-third of the required signatures —  18,579 — were due.

“It’s possible you could have multiple levels of challenge, as well,” Darsie said, indicating that one petition signature could have more than one issue.

The trio, Casa, Judicial Watch and the Office of the Attorney General, will have until November 21 to work out an amenable list of petition signatures that will be submitted to court in the form of a Joint Stipulation – a summary of all agreed upon petition names categorized by complaint.

“At a minimum, we’re going to try to figure out what is the number of signatures at issue on each different legal challenge. What they don’t agree upon, may be a separate [list].”

Darsie said he expects Casa’s list of petition signatures to match the amended complaint submitted by Casa September 1 which states, “The total number of invalid signatures identified by Plaintiffs is 67,326.”

Casa will also challenge that the DREAM Act cannot be put to referendum because it is an appropriations law — although neither the House bill nor the Senate bill which eventually passed went through an appropriations committee.

Washington, D.C.-based law firms Sandler, Reiff, Young and Lamb, P.C. and Arnold and Porter, LLP are representing the plaintiffs.

Arguments will be made in late January before Judge Ronald Silkworth of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Darsie said.

Casa of Maryland did not respond to requests for comment for this story.