A Baltimore Circuit Court judge has dismissed on a technicality four of the five charges against John M. Staubitz Jr., the state's former deputy health secretary accused of improprieties while running the now-defunct Maryland State Games program.
While the state attorney general's office could appeal the decision of Judge Andre M. Davis -- thus delaying a trial for months -- it appeared likely yesterday that Mr. Staubitz will instead stand trial May 27 on a single count of conspiracy.
"We respectfully disagree with the court's ruling, but our position is that it makes no practical difference," said Carolyn Henneman, an assistant attorney general. She said the law does not limit the penalty that can imposed for the conspiracy charge, so Mr. Staubitz, if found guilty, would not necessarily face a lesser sentence.
Mr. Staubitz was fired in December 1990 for his role in running the State Games office, an arm of the health department that was created to promote amateur athletics, ostensibly as a means of dissuading young people from using drugs.
Revelations about the program -- which rented Ocean City condominiums for state employees and financed trips to Las Vegas and Germany -- rocked state government last year and led to the resignation of Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack.
Legislative auditors found that State Games officials had used government funds for a host of "questionable, extravagant and unsubstantiated expenses," including a failed attempt to launch a sports clothing business. An investigation by The Sun revealed other instances of questionable spending, including the use of $4,500 in government drug-abuse prevention money to hire the band for a party for the governor's staff.
In October, Mr. Staubitz was indicted on the conspiracy charge and four counts of misconduct in office for allegedly misappropriating state funds, doing business with relatives, using his office for private gain and obstructing a legislative investigation by falsifying documents.
But Judge Davis ruled this week that the indictments prepared by the attorney general's office did not describe the charges against Mr. Staubitz with the detail required by law. "The allegations in this case have always been amorphous," Mr. Staubitz's lawyer, M. Albert Figinski, said yesterday. "We were particularly pleased with the judge's ruling."
Mr. Staubitz pleaded innocent to all of the charges.