Gun advocates suing city state's attorney over tactics in 1988 Subpoena was served on eve of referendum

November 06, 1991|By Brian Sullam

A political committee organized three years ago to defeat the 1988 referendum to restrict the types of guns sold in Maryland has filed suit against Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, alleging that he used his office to intimidate their campaign workers and interfere with their efforts to defeat the measure.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that Mr. Simms and Deputy State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy directed 12 police officers to serve a subpoena on the Baltimore campaign headquarters of the Maryland Committee Against the Gun Ban on the night before the election with the intention of interrupting the committee's electioneering efforts.

Maryland voters overwhelmingly supported the 1988 referendum that made it illegal to produce and sell certain types of handguns -- the so-called Saturday night specials -- and established a board that would decide which handguns could be sold in the state.

Howard J. Fezell, the Frederick lawyer who represents the Maryland Committee and five individual plaintiffs who were at the committee's headquarters the night the subpoena was served, said the purpose of the suit is to "redress the grievances of my clients who were deprived of their constitutional rights."

Mr. Simms, who said he had not received a copy of the suit, called it "ludicrous" and denied that he had violated their constitutional rights.

"They are angry that the measure passed and they wanted to get even. Instead of picking on Governor [William Donald] Schaefer or Attorney General [J. Joseph] Curran, they have decided to pick on me. I deny each and every allegation they made," he said.

The officers entered the committee's Baltimore headquarters at 2506 N. Calvert St. on Nov. 7, 1988, and served a subpoena seeking documents relating to "walk-around money" that was supposed to be distributed to campaign workers.

The subpoena was supposedly issued as part of a criminal investigation, but the suit, which seeks an unspecified amount of damages, alleges that Mr. Simms never conducted a criminal investigation and issued the subpoena only to harass the Maryland Committee.

Mr. Simms said yesterday that he referred the case to the office of the state prosecutor, which conducted an investigation that resulted in the conviction of three individuals for election law violations.

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