Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate must pay more than $80,000 in expenses for the lawsuit that challenged their nominating papers and kept them off the 2004 ballot, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
There was an implication of "fraud and deception" in their petition drive, the court said in its ruling.
A group of Pennsylvania voters sued to block Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo, who were running as independent candidates, from being placed on the ballot.
As a result of the lawsuit, the state Commonwealth Court found wide-ranging improprieties among Nader and Camejo's petition signatures and disqualified nearly two-thirds of the 51,000 signatures they submitted.
The Commonwealth Court opinion described the Nader-Camejo petitions as "the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court."
Signatures were filed for "Mickey Mouse" and "Fred Flintstone," and thousands of names were created at random, the lower court found.
In Wednesday's ruling, five justices said Nader and Camejo must pay the plaintiffs' transcription and stenography costs and handwriting expert fees.
"Given the magnitude of the fraud and deception implicated in (their) signature-gathering efforts, their claim that the Commonwealth Court acted in an unjust and unconstitutional fashion by assessing transcription and stenography costs does not pass the straight-face test," Justice Sandra Schultz Newman wrote for the majority.
A sixth justice said he did not think the law permitted the award of such costs, and the seventh said only about half of the bill was permissible.
A lawyer for Nader and Camejo, Basil C. Culyba, said the decision was incorrect and that his clients will have to decide whether to seek further appeals.
The decision will force any future third-party candidate to decide "whether or not he wants to bet his family home in an effort to have his political views heard," Culyba said.
A lawyer for the voters who filed the lawsuit, Gregory Harvey, countered that "experience shows that a legitimate third-party candidacy has no difficulty" getting on the ballot, largely because Pennsylvania's period for gathering signatures is the longest of any state.