Attorneys for former Baltimore County Councilman Gary Huddles have charged that state prosecutors attempted to intimidate Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg to discourage him from testifying on behalf of Huddles, who faces a theft charge.
But a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge yesterday dismissed a motion filed by Huddles' lawyers in which they asked her to admonish prosecutors. The judge said the prosecutors had not acted improperly in their dealings with Steinberg.
Huddles, a 16-year councilman who left office in 1986, is charged with theft for using $50,379 of his leftover campaign funds in 1987 to cover personal losses he suffered in the stock market.
Huddles paid back the money with interest in 1989 and distributed the campaign fund to charity or returned contributions to supporters.
The state contends that the use of the campaign funds was illegal but Huddles claims that it was not prohibited under election laws.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe denied a motion yesterday by Huddles' attorney, Joshua R. Treem, in which he asked the judge to "admonish and warn the state" against further contacts with defense witnesses that could seem intimidating.
Howe also found that Assistant State Prosecutor Scott Nevin's conduct was proper when he spoke with Steinberg.
The state asked for yesterday's hearing because Huddles, through his attorneys, accused prosecutors of "a campaign of intimidation designed to inhibit the cooperation of the witnesses designated by Huddles."
Huddles' attorneys also charged that by asking Steinberg if he had ever borrowed money from his own campaign funds, prosecutors were guilty of "outrageous and threatening actions" and "disgraceful and unethical behavior . . . purposefully calculated to terrify witnesses into fear of prosecution."
At first, Treem was unwilling to reveal to Howe which of the 187 possible witnesses listed for a hearing next week the lawyer felt had been intimidated by prosecutors.
The possible witnesses are listed for a hearing on defense motions to dismiss the charge against Huddles.
Treem told the judge that several witnesses, after being contacted by prosecutors, called to say they would not be willing to testify for Huddles.
But under sharp questioning from the judge, Treem agreed with Nevin's account that only one witness had been asked the question about borrowing campaign funds since the dismissal motion was filed. Treem also conceded that Steinberg did not say he would refuse to testify.
Treem said Steinberg called Huddles' defense team after his con versation with Nevin to say he doesn't want to appear, but would come if he had to.
The defense, Treem said, doesn't want to subpoena reluctant witnesses.
Treem said the tone of the state's questions, asked in the context of the Huddles case, could lead defense witnesses to believe that they could become targets of prosecutions themselves.
"Why in creation would he [Steinberg] be terrified he would be prosecuted?" Howe asked Treem after Nevin told her that Steinberg said he has never borrowed campaign funds for personal use. Treem replied that he didn't personally speak with Steinberg so he didn't know.
Steinberg and Huddles were close political allies. The lieutenant governor was visiting his dentist late yesterday, according to a secretary in his office, and was not immediately available for comment.
Nevin said his office has spoken with 33 possible witnesses, including Gene Raynor, administrator of the state elections board; Del. John Arnick, D-Balto. Co.; and state Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Balto. Co.
The prosecutor said only eight of those 33 had been contacted by the defense, and no subpoenas have been issued for any witnesses. Treem said that Raynor has also expressed reluctance to testify at the hearing, but added that Raynor was contactedbefore the motion to dismiss was filed.
Treem later said he expected to call no more than 12 witnesses for the hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 26. Several of the witnesses are state lawmakers.
"I can't find anything that they've done incorrect," Howe said of Nevin and Assistant State Prosecutor Dolores Ridgill.
Huddles collected his campaign fund of about $95,000 in June 1985 when he was planning to run for county executive. But he dropped out of politics after it was revealed a few weeks later that he had benefited for three years from an unsecured $60,000 loan arranged by former Old Court Savings and Loan Association president Jeffrey Levitt, and had not made a payment in all that time.
Huddles paid back all the money, plus interest, within weeks, but his political career was ruined. He never reported borrowing his campaign funds until he filed his last spending report in August 1990. By then, he had paid all the money back and distributed it to charities and contributors.
Huddles maintains that state law does not prohibit borrowing campaign money. He said that the legislature refused to specifically prohibit it on several occasions.
Huddles was indicted in July, and his trial is scheduled for Nov. 25.