Ex-judge to head study of patronage at liquor board

May 24, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

A former city judge will head a citywide task force formed to determine whether state senators should end decades of patronage at Baltimore's liquor board.

Attorney Peter D. Ward and other panel members will recommend whether board employees, who have been political appointees for more than 60 years, should be hired through a civil service-style system.

Mr. Ward, who served two years as a judge on the old Baltimore Supreme Bench and a dozen more as a city, state and federal prosecutor, said yesterday that the panel would hold public hearings and meet with board employees before reaching any decision.

Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation, who announced Mr. Ward's appointment to the unpaid post, promised that the task force would operate with complete freedom.

"They will have full and total reign over the issue," Mr. Pica said. "I'm interested in one thing: determining whether changes in the appointment process will strengthen public confidence in the board."

The panel was created after reports of conflicts of interest at the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, a state agency that is one of the last strongholds of political patronage in the city. The agency is the focus of a corruption probe by a city grand jury.

Earlier this month, The Sun detailed problems at the liquor board, whose three commissioners and 33 full- and part-time inspectors are selected by state senators. Liquor board employees then regulate bars and restaurants that contribute to the senators' campaigns. Some employees even solicit campaign contributions from those businesses.

After the article appeared in The Sun, a majority of Baltimore's nine state senators, who have maintained the patronage system at the board, said it was time to make changes.

Mr. Ward, 57, said he expects the task force to begin work in the fall, after the Senate delegation appoints the remaining members and in time to make recommendations for the 1995 General Assembly session.

"We're going to have a series of public hearings where people in the industry and community will have the opportunity to appear," he said. The panel also will meet with liquor board employees to understand how the agency operates, he said.

Mr. Ward, a partner in the Towson firm Ward, Janofsky & Truhe, has had a private civil and criminal litigation practice since 1988. He said he has never represented clients before the liquor board.

Mr. Ward, a Roland Park resident and 1962 graduate of the University of Baltimore law school, was appointed to fill a vacant position on the Supreme Bench in 1980 by Gov. Harry Hughes. He served until 1982, when he was defeated in a bid to retain the judgeship, an elective post.

Before being appointed to the bench, Mr. Ward was a prosecutor from 1967 to 1973 with the city state's attorney's office.

In 1973 and 1974, he was a special assistant attorney general, prosecuting corruption cases. He was a federal public defender from 1974 to 1980 and an assistant U.S. attorney from 1983 to 1988.

Mr. Pica said he would name an additional four to eight panel members, in consultation with the city's other state senators. He said he was committed to picking someone from the City-Wide Liquor Coalition, a citizens group pushing for tougher alcohol laws.

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