Seeking to resolve the disputed results of the Republican state convention, a Suffolk Superior Court judge invited legal opinions Friday on whether a GOP gubernatorial candidate could be named to a primary ballot without the nomination of his party.
Judge Douglas H. Wilkins filed an order and sought the advice of the state’s attorney general and the secretary of state on whether Tea Party candidate Mark R. Fisher could qualify for the September primary.
But the judge’s request could present new complications. The attorney general, Martha Coakley, is running for governor on the Democratic ticket, and any advice she might offer could have impact on the gubernatorial race.
Fisher, a Shrewsbury businessman, contends in a lawsuit that he was unfairly kept off the ballot last month at the convention, where Charlie Baker was named the sole nominee for governor. The Massachusetts Republican Party disputed Fisher’s statements and argued for a dismissal of the case in court Friday.
Thomas Harvey, Fisher’s lawyer, said it appears the judge is seeking guidance on a complicated election matter that needs to be quickly resolved to have a bearing on the upcoming election.
“Anybody who wants to put in their two cents, now is the opportunity,” Harvey said.
Republican Party bylaws prevent Baker from getting state party funds while he faces competition from within his party in a primary. If Baker is alone on the ballot, his campaign can immediately tap into all the party’s resources and raise higher-level contributions, in conjunction with the party PACs, to prepare an attack on the Democratic candidates, Coakley included.
A spokesman for the attorney general, Brad Puffer, said Coakley’s office was reviewing the request. He could not yet say whether Coakley would personally issue an opinion, or when. The judge requested submissions before the next scheduled hearing Wednesday afternoon.
However, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, who oversees state elections, said in an interview that he sees no way around the state statute that has been interpreted in the past to require the state to follow the party’s lead on nominees.
To run for governor, a candidate must collect the signatures of 10,000 voters and be certified by his party as qualified to run.
To win such certification, party bylaws call for the candidate to demonstrate the support of at least 15 percent of delegates at a state convention.
“I can’t put anybody on the ballot unless I get a certificate saying somebody got 15 percent,” Galvin said. “There’s no other way around it.”
The Massachusetts Republican Party has still not provided a certificate, even for Baker, a delay that seemed unusual three weeks after the convention, Galvin said.
Louis M. Ciavarra, a lawyer for the state Republican Party, argued Friday that the court should stay out of the case.
But the judge questioned that interpretation, saying the court can step in to prevent fraud and chicanery.
Fisher paid $25,000 for the opportunity to speak at the state convention. Ciavarra said the party fulfilled its contractual obligation by letting him speak and providing a list of the delegates who were attending.
“He got everything he was assured of getting, except his 15 percent,” Ciavarra said. “Nobody guaranteed him 15 percent.”
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