WESTMINSTER - In the latest episode in a state's attorney's race marred by mudslinging and accusations, incumbent Republican Thomas E. Hickman took another shot at opponent Jerry Barnes by trying to discredit his former campaign chairman.
This latest barrage has prompted yet another investigation into the race by the state special prosecutor.
Before a crowd of reporters yesterday, Hickman displayed a police report filed by members of the Carroll Drug Coordinating Committee, which detailed a drug search of a car belonging to former Barnes campaign chairman Scott Markle.
Markle said he declined to comment on Hickman's accusations on the advice of his attorney, Charles O. Fisher Jr. Markle confirmed that he was stopped by the police in April but said "drugs were never found."
Hickman said he produced the report to back accusations he made last week during a live TV debate that his opponent associates with "known criminals."
Markle was arrested -- but never charged with any crime after the raid on his car, the police report says.
Barnes has asked State Special Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to investigate Hickman's public allegations that Markle is involved with drugs.
Montanarelli still is investigating a search of the car of County Commissioner Jeff Griffith -- a candidate for state Senate -- by the committee, which is run by Hickman's office. Montanarelli said yesterday that he did not know when that investigation would be finished.
Montanarelli also said he did not know when he would begin the probe into the Markle case. He has received a tape of the debate which Barnes sent him.
The attack on Markle is the latest development in the turbulent campaign for the county's highest law enforcement office.
"The tone of this race has been far more personal than any other that I can remember in Carroll County," said Greg Pecoraro, president of the County Democratic Central Committee. "It's been characterized by attacks on family, friends and supporters."
Joseph M. Getty, a member of the county's Republican Central Committee, said, "Tom Hickman has faced the toughest competition that he's ever had.
The race has taken some nasty overtones. I think this race is the enigma of the 1990 campaign."
Just after Barnes announced his candidacy for state's attorney in December and resigned the assistant state's attorney post that he had occupied for 13 years, Hickman accused Barnes and his wife, former Carroll County Times reporter Carmen Amedori, of spreading rumors that he tried to cover up the Griffith investigation and leaking information to the press.
Barnes, who demanded Montanarelli investigate the case, later said Hickman should resign from the commission that appoints the state special prosecutor to avoid a conflict of interest; the state attorney general agreed. After initially declining to do so, Hickman -- who later asked Montanarelli to investigate Barnes and Amedori -- did resign so Montanarelli could take on the case without any appearance of impropriety.
The next shot came when Barnes and his wife questioned whether it was coincidental that Hickman used to share law office space and an Ocean City condominium with defense lawyer and developer Kenneth Holniker of Eldersburg. Holniker was listed at the time as one of Griffith's attorneys.
In April, Hickman cut his ties to Holniker, saying he wanted to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest.
Things were pretty quiet in the campaign until last week when Hickman asked Barnes on live cable television why he "associates with people who have criminal ties." The incumbent then discussed in detail the stopping and searching of Markle's car by the drug task force on April 20. The debate re-airs one last time, at noon today, on Prestige Channel 3.
Yesterday, Hickman gave members of the press copies of the state police report on the search.
Although the initial report said charges of marijuana possession were pending, no charges were ever filed because the amount of the alleged drug was too small to be tested by the state police lab.
Barnes said yesterday that Markle, "told me to some extent what happened to him and we agreed he should step down as campaign chairman." He said Markle still works on all the Democratic campaigns and that his names still appears on Barnes' campaign literature because "tens of thousands" of the brochures were printed in February, long before Markle resigned from the campaign in May.