Sen. O'Reilly retires to join commission

March 26, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Prince George's County Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, one of the most powerful men in the Maryland Senate, stunned his colleagues yesterday by announcing his retirement to take a seat on the Workers' Compensation Commission.

The unexpected departure of Mr. O'Reilly, 55, the Finance Committee chairman and a loyal lieutenant to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., is the latest in what is becoming an exodus from the 47-member Senate this election year.

He becomes the sixth senator to formally announce plans to retire, and is among more than a dozen who appear unlikely to return next year. Three and possibly four senators are running for other offices; two are running against each other for the same seat; and six others may not return because of age, health or difficult re-election races.

Most of Mr. O'Reilly's colleagues were unaware he had even applied for the quasi-judicial Workers' Compensation Commission job, which pays $82,300 a year, until his appointment by Gov. William Donald Schaefer was announced on the Senate floor.

He will fill a seat on the 10-member commission now held by L. Douglas Jefferson, also of Prince George's County, whose 12-year term expires this year.

Seventeen senators took the floor yesterday to praise the silver-haired chairman, whose committee brought to the full Senate often complex legislation involving insurance, health care, horse racing, lottery, personnel and other matters, including workers' compensation insurance.

The Senate took the extraordinary step of voting unanimously to waive Mr. O'Reilly's required appearance before the Executive Nominations Committee, suspend the rules and approve his appointment on the spot.

Then, the senators -- joined by lobbyists for insurance companies, health care providers and others who were watching from the second-floor gallery -- gave Mr. O'Reilly a standing ovation.

Mr. O'Reilly said he first mentioned to the governor his interest in a judicial appointment more than a year ago, but kept that a secret. He said he and his wife, Barbara, decided months ago he would not run for re-election in his Greenbelt area district, but he scheduled a May fund-raiser he never expected to have to conceal his intentions.

"He obviously is a qualified lawyer," said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's chief of staff. He said Mr. O'Reilly's legislative experience should be beneficial in a program suffering from a huge backlog of cases and a reputation for moving too slowly in adjudicating claims filed by workers injured on the job.

He said he will have to sell his law practice, the Law Offices of Thomas Patrick O'Reilly, which handles personal injury cases. Mr. O'Reilly said he will finish the final two weeks of this session and remain on the legislative payroll until he takes his seat on the commission July 1.

Even before his announcement, Mr. O'Reilly had expected to be opposed for re-election by one of the delegates from his district, Paul G. Pinsky, a former teacher and president of the county's teachers union.

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