Murphy proves he's not the quiet man Balto. Co. gadfly wins $5,000 settlement.

April 02, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff

"I'm not one of those persons who are built to be quiet."

As if to prove that self-assessment, Baltimore County employee George W. Murphy, long a gadfly of county government, called the press last week to announce that he had won a $5,000 settlement from his employer. The award settles a battle he began two years ago to thwart a policy designed to keep him from going to the press about county matters.

Murphy said the money goes to his attorney, Jeffrey P. Nesson, for fees incurred during the court fight, which already was partially resolved last year when a county official struck down the policy and ruled in Murphy's favor.

The policy, initiated in March 1988, required Murphy to get permission from his Department of Recreation and Parks bosses before speaking to news reporters.

Murphy, a maintenance supervisor at Diamond Ridge Golf Course in Woodlawn who ran unsuccessfully for the County Council last year, filed suit in November 1988, protesting the gag order.

"I'm glad it's over with," he said. "I was never in this for the money. But this enables me to pay my bills."

Murphy charged that county officials dragged their feet during his court battle in an effort to "starve me out," he said. So, even after the policy was struck down, Murphy went after the county to recoup attorneys' fees.

Although Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Leonard S. Jacobson dismissed Murphy's claim for attorneys' fees, the county agreed to pay to put the matter to rest.

"We did agree to pay what we thought was a negligible amount," said Arnold Jablon, the deputy county attorney. "This could have gone on forever. We could drag this out and spend $100,000, but we felt it was better to get it over with. It's a nuisance value."

Murphy's troubles began in March 1988, shortly after he turned in the county to the Army Corps of Engineers for not having a permit to dig a trench adjacent to a trout stream near Oregon Ridge Park in northern Baltimore County.

Murphy said he called because he feared that a heavy rainstorm, at the height of early spring trout spawning season, could have choked the stream with sediment.

He was told by his supervisors that he was not allowed to talk to the press without checking with them.

But Murphy ignored the commands and continued to speak out on issues as varied as a controversial growth plan for the Patapsco area and politicians' use of county-owned golf courses for fund-raisers.

Along the way, Murphy said, he became something of a curiosity among county workers. Many co-workers scorned him, but others used his name to fight perceived wrongdoing, he said.

"You can use my name like a gun," Murphy said, proudly recounting an episode last year in which county recreation officials put sediment-control bales of hay near a county development at Texas after hesitating initially.

"George might drive by here," one employee, a friend of Murphy's, warned the reluctant supervisor, who promptly put out the hay bales, according to Murphy.

Ironically, Murphy irritated both Jablon and Nesson, his own attorney, by telling reporters the amount of the recent settlement.

"If the number gets printed in the paper," said Nesson, who seemed particularly miffed, "I will never speak to anyone from the Sunpapers again. . . . It was a mistake for George to reveal it.

"George can sometimes go off and say things that he shouldn't," Nesson said, "In this case, that's exactly what he did."

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