CAMDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A federal judge delayed ruling Friday on whether Carl Lewis can run for elected office in New Jersey, prolonging a monthslong legal fight over whether the nine-time Olympic gold medalist meets the state’s four-year residency requirement for candidates.
Judge Noel Hillman indicated he would rule before the Sept. 8 deadline for ballot information to be submitted to county clerks. His decision is certain to be appealed.
Lewis, 50, wants to run for state Senate as a Democrat representing the 8th legislative district. New Jersey’s top elections official, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, ruled him ineligible this spring, setting off a fight in federal and state courts.
A federal appeals court allowed Lewis’ name to appear on June primary ballots, and he won his party’s nomination with 2,418 votes in an uncontested race. Republican Sen. Dawn Addiego also won her uncontested party primary with 4,350 votes, and the two would face off in the GOP-leaning district in November, if the courts allow.
Lewis contends the effort to keep him from running is a political calculation made by the leader of the state Republican party, Gov. Chris Christie. Lewis claims Christie and Republican bigwigs influenced Guadagno’s decision.
However, Hillman said there’s no evidence Guadagno was improperly influenced. He ruled Friday that Lewis’s lawyer cannot question Guadagno about the decision to disqualify him. It is rare for a judge to permit a sitting public official to be questioned on the record about a policy decision.
“I expected that,” Lewis said afterward. “The good news is, the judge affirmed I’m still on the ballot. We’re rolling.”
He said he believes he’ll ultimately remain on the ballot and will continue to campaign. The two sides are tentatively due back in court Sept. 1.
Hillman said Guadagno’s refusal to certify Lewis’s name for the November general election did not cause him immediate harm because ballots won’t go to the printer until mid-September. However, the judge left open the door for an emergency challenge if the case isn’t decided by then.
Guadagno said she didn’t certify his candidacy because he has not lived in New Jersey for four years prior to running for state Senate, as the state Constitution requires.
Lewis, who grew up in Willingboro, a middle-class town between Philadelphia and Trenton, went to Texas for college and lived in California after amassing gold medals in three consecutive Olympics beginning in Los Angeles in 1984. He contends he moved back to New Jersey in 2005 when he bought homes for himself and his mother. He has been a volunteer high school track coach since 2007 and has had a valid New Jersey driver’s license since 2006.
However, records show that he voted in California through 2009, which the state contends made him a legal resident of that state.
“Either he was committing tax fraud in New Jersey or voter fraud in California,” said Republican lawyer Mark Sheridan.
He has homes in Medford and Mount Laurel in New Jersey, and Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Lewis exhausted his appeals in state court when the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to hear the case. The issue ultimately before the federal court is whether the state’s residency requirement for state Senate candidates violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as applied to Lewis.
Lewis contends he knows the issues facing the district and that voters know who he is.
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