Posted: Jan. 31, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The campaign season is supposed to end on Election Day, or perhaps Return Day at the latest. Then there is the 2002 congressional race.

While U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the winning Republican, did what was expected of him by returning to Washington for a state-record sixth term, a couple of Democratic candidates involved in the contest hung around a while longer.

Micheal C. Miller, the combative candidate whom Castle trounced for a second time, didn't make his final public appearance until the week after the election -- in a courtroom. Steven L. Biener, who could have been expected to vanish after he lost a September primary to Miller, still was sending out a press release on campaign letterhead as late as last week.

It was true to form for both.

The congressional election was not much of an attention-grabber. It attracted far less notice than the vociferous three-for-all for attorney general, involving Republican incumbent M. Jane Brady, Democrat Carl Schnee and Green Vivian A. Houghton, or the top-of-the-ticket rematch for the U.S. Senate with Democratic incumbent Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Republican Raymond J. Clatworthy.

Castle waltzed to a win, beating Miller by polling 73 percent of the vote, the best showing of any statewide candidate. This was after Miller claimed the Democratic nomination by getting 52 percent of the vote against Biener.

The issues that emerged to dominate the election were little more than a campaign sideshow -- including Miller's courthouse capers and Biener's aversion to the candidates' filing fee. Just because the voting was over did not mean it would stop.

During the campaign season, The Associated Press reported that Miller, the owner of Tax Man Accounting Services and Miller's Landscape in Lewes, was in and out of court in the 1990s. He was denied unemployment benefits after Delaware State College, now Delaware State University, fired him as a security guard for padding his resume. He was sued successfully by a landlady for back office rent. A Court of Common Pleas jury found him guilty in an altercation with the father of his stepdaughter.

As matters turned out, Miller also spent the campaign season fighting a speeding ticket. It was not resolved until Nov. 13, during the week after the Nov. 5 election, in a Common Pleas jury trial.

According to Deputy Attorney General Christopher M. Hutchison, Miller was stopped on March 15 by a state trooper on Delaware 24 near Long Neck in Sussex County and ticketed for going 70 miles an hour in a 50-mile-an-hour zone. Miller decided to fight it.

"He was pretty adamant that he was not guilty," Hutchison said.

The fine for traveling 20 miles above the limit is $80, Hutchison said. The trooper offered to drop the charge to nine miles over the limit, which carries a $29 fine, and the Attorney General's Office offered a standard plea of five miles over the limit, which has a $20 fine, to settle out of court. Miller still said no.

Instead, in Common Pleas Judge Rosemary B. Beauregard's courtroom in Georgetown, Miller represented himself during his day in court -- and lost. A 12-member jury convicted him on the original speeding ticket of 70 miles an hour, so he wound up with an $80 fine, Hutchison said.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Miller said he refused a lesser charge because he wasn't guilty, no matter what the jury decided. "If you're not speeding, there's no need saying something you didn't do," he said.

Although eight months elapsed between the ticket and the trial, both the Attorney General's Office and Miller say there wasn't an effort on either side to delay the case until after the election. Hutchison said he didn't realize who Miller was until the arraignment in August.

State Prosecutor Steven P. Wood said the speeding charge took as long as it did because of a backlog in Sussex County Common Pleas, which handles more than 20,000 cases a year.

"Cases that don't involve victims or significant property loss don't receive much attention. Speeding cases certainly fall into that," Wood said.

Miller considers the matter over. "I'm getting ready for a busy tax season," he said.

If Miller has moved on, Biener hasn't. A Wilmington attorney with the corporate law firm of Cozen O'Connor, he still is worrying his filing fee four months after he lost the primary.

Filing fees are set by the political parties and collected by the state election commissioner on their behalf. The fees are regarded generally as a means of discouraging frivolous or fraudulent candidacies. Under state law, the fee cannot be greater than 1 percent of the total salary for the term of office, although indigents are excused from paying it. In Biener's case, the congressional fee was set at $3,000.

Corporate lawyer, indigent or whatever, Biener didn't think filing fees were right. He considered them an unconstitutional barrier to ballot access and made a federal case out of it, suing Elections Commissioner Frank B. Calio in U.S. District Court to try to stop Calio from collecting the money.

After losing an early round in court in July, Biener paid his fee under protest. The case was not resolved finally until Jan. 21, when U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet in a written order sided with Calio and threw it out.

"Requiring a fee of non-indigent candidates is a rational means of furthering the state's interests in regulating the size of the ballot and avoiding voter confusion leading to the clogging of the election machinery," Sleet wrote.

Biener decided not to go quietly. He fired off a press release. "Delaware's filing fees do indeed scare people away. They discourage participation by minorities and those of modest means," he wrote. "The Framers of our Constitution did not want wealth to be a factor in determining whom citizens could choose on Election Day."

Biener said he is considering whether or not to appeal. Calio would rather he didn't. "I'm glad it's been resolved, and I hope Mr. Biener can accept it, and we can move on," he said.

After all, it is January.