HAMILTON – He has not yet rendered his decision, but Administrative Law Judge John Schuster III this afternoon is weighing arguments by Republicans that legendary Olympian Carl Lewis should not be allowed to run for office in the 8th Legislative District based on residency.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Lewis told reporters after one and a half hours on the stand. “The truth is easy.”
Seeking to oust him from the race on a technicality, Burlington County Republicans last week challenged Lewis’s New Jersey residency status due to the fact that he has a voting history in California.
Lewis was ushered into the political arena by South Jersey Democrats supporting his challenge of state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, (R-8), of Evesham. Addiego, who has the support of Gov. Chris Christie, was appointed last year to fill the term of GOP-turned-judge, former state Sen. Phil Haines.
Burlington County Republican Chairman Bill Layton and Ted Costa both filed petitions to toss Lewis from the race, but Lewis told reporters before the hearing today that he believed the GOP’s tactic was just an attempt to trip him up out of the starting blocks and bog him down in court.
“I have thick skin,” Lewis said. “You don’t win nine gold medals by calling foul.”
At the very least, the court case is provided Lewis with an excuse to not discuss the issues, as he said today his focus on the court case delayed his policy position roll out.
The GOP today wanted Schuster to consider the record: California law requires a voter to be domiciled in that state, and Lewis voted in California as late as May 19, 2009. He also voted in California on June 3 and Nov. 4, 2008. They wanted to know how Lewis can be a voting resident west-side, while claiming to be a New Jersey resident eligible for a state Senate candidacy east-side.
Lewis’ attorney countered with five years worth of documentation, including a 2006 N.J. driver’s license that expired last year, illustrating Lewis’ history in the Garden State.
“When he was a nine-time gold medalist, he was New Jersey’s favorite son,” said William M. Tambussi of Brown and Connery. “Now he wants to run for office and he’s a notorious carpetbagger.”
Schuster has 24 hours to issue his decision in the case.
“Politics as usual,” said the the track and field icon, who bought property in Medford in 2005 and registered to vote in New Jersey last year. Lewis’s counter argument to the GOP today was that he is a resident of the state of New Jersey. Moreover, invoking the “Equal Protection” clause in the Constitution, Tambussi said his client’s Republican challengers do not have standing because he is a candidate in another party’s primary election, the Democratic Party.
Burlington GOP strategist Chris Russell dismissed Lewis’s claims to residency.
“Carl Lewis is voting in California in 2009 when he claims to be a resident in New Jersey since 2005,” the veteran operative told reporters after the hearing.
Russell displayed a quote from a 2004 LA Times article in which Lewis is quoted as saying “The one place I’ll never be is probably where I’ll spend the rest of my life,” referring to California.
“It’s a cut and dry case,” Russell said. “If he had the intent to live here, then be here. I think it was patently obvious he was calling California home.”
Objecting to Lewis’s lawyers’ reasoning in the courtroom, “Anyone has standing to (challenge one) who is not qualified to run under the Constitution,” said Drinker Biddle lawyer Mark Errico.
Grey suit. Maroon tie. Gleaming black loafers.
Lewis took the stand and answered questions posed by Errico.
Following his storied athletic career, Lewis moved to California to pursue an acting career in 1999. Lewis kept a Houston home until 2005.
“You were registered (in California) since 2002, isn’t that true? In that voter application registration… you swore you were a resident of California at that point, isn’t that correct?”
“I signed the form, yes,” said Lewis.
“You stipulated that you voted in California in 2008 and 2009 and voted in California since 2004, isn’t that correct?”
“Yes,” said the track star.
“From 2004 to 2009, the only state in which you voted was California, is that correct?”
“Yes, I did,” Lewis said.
“Paying income tax as far back as 2002?”
“I’ll have to check with my accountant. I transitioned from Houston to Los Angeles.”
Lewis donated $1,000 in 2007 to California Democrat Isidore Hall, but he said he could not remember if he identified his Pacific Palisades address on the reporting form.
“When Mr. Lewis identified his residence he identified his residence as Pacific Palisades,” said Errico, scrapping briefly with the judge to make the point as Schuster pressed the attorney for a more clearly patterned argument.
So Errico drilled into the pattern of Lewis’s history as a homeowner and resident of California, who began paying property taxes in California in 1999 at his first California home before moving to another Pacific Palisades home in 2002. He sold his home in California in July of last year, and sold his Texas home in 2005.
He never had a California driver’s license, he said. His lawyer had him note that his late father is buried in New Jersey.
The GOP noted that his vehicle registration papers list his address in Houston, Texas. Lewis said he drove with a Texas license he received in either the late 1970s or early 1980s, which he maintained until 2006. His was issued his first N.J. license in 2006, which expired last year.
“A Mount Carmel, New Jersey driver’s license,” said Schuster, studying the laminated card.
The Democrats panicked for one hair-raising second before the judge corrected himself and said, “Mount Laurel.”
Lewis received a second license issued in August in 2010, which listed his residence as Medford.
Tambussi tried to establish the pattern of a loyal son whose mother lived close to him when he lived out of state.
“The way my career is I have contracts with different companies. I may work anywhere in the world. I don’t have a set place to work. It’s based on my schedule; what I accept and what I take,” the candidate said.
Admitting at least one piece of evidence, Lewis’s counsel showed that Lewis paid a 2008 South Jersey Gas Company gas bill on his property in Medford. He established a scholarship award for Willingboro children – a commitment he made starting around four years ago, he confirmed to counsel.
“The allegation is that as early as this month, the only addresses listed on your personal website were Houston and California,” the judge said.
“We haven’t updated it,” said Lewis, referring to his main website. “Actually… we’re getting a whole new website,” he later clarified.
The GOP was unconvinced, showing a screen shot of the site, with does not list a New Jersey residence.
He still has a small town home in California, which he rents. His office remains in Encino, Calif., where his assistant works.
Errico again went on offense.
“You didn’t register to vote (in New Jersey) until last Monday, is that correct?”
“That’s correct,” said Lewis.