A judge has cleared the way for an Atlantic City councilman to sue the Attorney General's Office and others who mounted an unsuccessful voter fraud case against him and 11 others.

Marty Small was acquitted by a jury in 2011, five years after he was cleared in a similar voter-fraud case.

Retribution for that earlier loss by the state — and not any real wrongdoing — is what prompted the second investigation, Small charges in the lawsuit filed just months after the jury’s verdict.

Now, the case that also names the three deputy attorneys general who tried Small and two investigators can move forward.

“We have been held up for two full years by the attorney general’s motions to dismiss,” Small’s attorney, Ed Jacobs, said. “All their motions have now been summarily rejected and we can start the discovery process.”

Fourteen people were arrested in September 2009 on charges that they disenfranchised voters by tampering with absentee and messenger ballots. Two men took plea deals, but 12 others opted for trial.

The state spent more than $480,000 to try the first round of six defendants — including Small — in a trial that lasted nearly five months in 2011. That’s on top of the costs to investigate the case, which some lawyers estimated at the time cost $2 million to $4 million.

When all six were acquitted, the state decided to drop the charges against the remaining six.

“He’s looking for vindication,” Jacobs said of Small.

He’s also looking for answers.

“A lot of taxpayer money was spent on this investigation,” Jacobs said. “The bottom line is, theses lawyers and investigators have a lot of explaining to do. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, they’ll answer those questions about what they did do, what they didn’t do and what they should have done.”

The suit is also asking for economic damages, including lawyer fees and loss of wages.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.