Judge: No conspiracy in Libertarians’ bump from Ohio ballot

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge delivered a legal victory Friday to Ohio’s elections chief and a voter sued by Libertarians for their roles in disqualifying the party’s gubernatorial candidate from 2014 fall ballots.

A lawyer for the Libertarian Party of Ohio said the party plans to appeal.

The party sued Secretary of State Jon Husted and voter Greg Felsoci, alleging they were part of a scheme to selectively enforce Ohio election law to help Republican Gov. John Kasich’s re-election bid. At the time, the third-party gubernatorial candidacy of Libertarian Charlie Earl was seen as potentially drawing votes from Kasich, who later easily won re-election.

The lawsuit alleged that improperly singling out the party’s candidates violates the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause.

In Friday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Watson rejected the party’s claims. He said it failed to prove any conspiracy was involved when Husted disqualified Earl and the party’s attorney general candidate from the ballot for petition violations.

Depositions in the case did uncover that the law firm hired by Terry Casey, the GOP consultant who orchestrated the Earl challenge, had its legal bills paid for by the Ohio Republican Party. Casey said he acted on his own and the party helped out after the fact.

Watson said emails showed Casey communicating with the state party chair and Kasich’s campaign, but they did not prove the parties worked together to get the Libertarian candidates disqualified.

“While these messages show Casey’s proclivity to involve himself in Republican politics, the messages do not provide any support for Plaintiffs’ claim of civil conspiracy between a private actor and a state actor,” the judge wrote.

Watson said just because Casey chairs the State Personnel Board of Review, a position to which Kasich appointed him, doesn’t mean all his actions are “committed under the color of state law.”

Mark Brown, the Libertarians’ attorney, said he conferred with his clients Friday and they intend to appeal.

In a statement, Husted noted courts have repeatedly struck down the party’s claims over the past two years.

“In Ohio, we follow the law, the laws are fair and it’s time to put this issue to rest,” he said.

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