Nader, who is considering running for president again next year, said that the judgment against him was part of a political vendetta. Pennsylvania Democrats sought to snuff out of his candidacy in 2004, he said, because they blamed him for tilting the disputed 2000 election to President Bush.
In October 2004, the Commonwealth Court found that fewer than half the 51,273 names on Nader's nominating petition were valid, and that some were fraudulent. Judge James Gardner Colins, elected as a Democrat, called the petition "the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated on this court."
In January 2005, Colins ordered Nader and his running mate, Peter Camejo, to pay the Reed Smith firm $81,102 in costs for copying and expert witnesses.
Comejo settled with the firm for $20,000, leaving Nader on the hook for the rest, plus interest. Reed Smith has started collection proceedings in the District of Columbia, Nader's home.
"I don't want to call him any names, I just want my firm's money," said Efraim Grail, the Reed Smith partner in charge of the case. "This is not political and not an issue of ballot access - it's a question of Mr. Nader and his campaign having violated the election laws, and us trying to recoup some of our costs."
It could have been worse. Grail said his firm "gave away" $1 million worth of legal fees pursuing the pro-bono case. Camejo's settlement money was donated to the League of Women Voters of Western Pennsylvania and the Committee of 70 watchdog group in Philadelphia, Grail said.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Nader's appeal of the award to Reed Smith, just as it declined to take up his appeal of the original decision in 2004.
Nader said the court award validated partisan efforts to stifle competition to the two predominant parties, denying choice to voters - and civil rights to independent candidates.
"Pennsylvania is the proving ground for the ballot access-busting activities of the Democratic National Committee," Nader said. "It's got to be stopped because it's going to spread like a disease."
He said independent candidates had been disenfranchised by the courts, much as African Americans once were. "It's like the early civil rights cases of the 1930s and '40s," Nader said.
In 2000, Bush beat Democratic nominee Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida, which gave him the White House. Nader won about 90,000 votes in the state, earning him lasting enmity from many Democrats.
Last year, Pennsylvania Democrats challenged Green Party Senate candidate Carl Romanelli, fearing that he would siphon votes from the party's nominee, now-Sen. Bob Casey. Romanelli fell 9,000 signatures short of earning a spot on the ballot, and now is appealing a court order directing him to pay more than $80,000 to the Pittsburgh law firm of Thorpe, Reed & Armstrong.
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.