Prosecutor finds no illegal campaigning on state time in courthouse

October 30, 1994|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Sun Staff Writer

A state prosecutor who investigated a complaint that employees at Harford Circuit Court had conducted political campaign work on state time concluded that no criminal activity occurred.

"No one violated any statutes," James Cabezas, chief investigator for the office of the state prosecutor, said last week.

A report on the investigation will be sent to all parties involved, Mr. Cabezas said.

Stewart Elliott, the Republican challenger for the position of Circuit Court clerk held by Charles G. Hiob III, requested the inquiry. Mr. Elliott alleged that Mr. Hiob and Harry Hopkins, the Democratic incumbent in the register of wills race, had circulated, or had courthouse employees circulate, a petition to support their campaigns.

Mr. Elliott said several Bel Air lawyers were asked during working hours to sign a petition endorsing Mr. Hiob and Mr. Hopkins.

"My opponent is trying to make political hay," said Mr. Hiob. "It's an act of a desperate man."

Mr. Hiob said he had sent a memo to each courthouse employee "a while ago" reminding them that on-the-job politicking for any candidate is not permitted.

"I haven't even asked any of my employees to put a campaign sign in their yard for me," Mr. Hiob said.

Mr. Elliott cited a section of state law that reads: "An employee may not engage in political activity while on the job during working hours."

"As far as I know, the petition was put out by the bar and passed around on employees' own time, during lunch, a coffee break, or such," said Mr. Hopkins. "I'm too busy to pay attention to things like that." A Bel Air attorney who requested anonymity said a state employee had asked him in the courthouse to sign the petition. "I don't think the clerk intended any wrongdoing," the attorney said.

Mr. Elliott called the state prosecutor "for political gain," said Mr. Hiob. To ensure that the allegedly tainted petition would not harm Mr. Elliott, Mr. Hiob said, the original petition, containing about 10 signatures, was destroyed and a new one was circulated by a member of the state bar.

Another Bel Air attorney, Christian Wilson, said he had not felt coerced by anyone to sign the original petition. "I signed the second petition, too, mainly because both men are doing a good job," he said.

The new petition, containing 84 signatures of local attorneys endorsing Mr. Hiob and Mr. Hopkins, was used for an ad in a weekly newspaper Wednesday.

"Mr. Elliott didn't want that ad published because it did not endorse him," said Mr. Hiob.

Mr. Elliott called the state prosecutor's investigation "half-hearted."

"I'm disappointed, very disappointed," he said.

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