The tips that eventually led members of Carroll's drug task force to stop and search a car driven by then-County Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith four years ago were second- and third-hand allegations made by a former county prosecutor who is now running for state's attorney, a federal judge said.
Although he said a drug investigation based on the flimsy recollections made by state's attorney candidate Jerry F. Barnes may appear unseemly, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz dismissed Mr. Griffith's $2 million civil lawsuit against the drug officers because they did not violate any of the former commissioner's constitutional rights.
"A reasonable person might well conclude from this evidence that the members of the [drug task force] exercised poor judgment in investigating an alleged marijuana user [albeit one holding public office] on the basis of second-hand information about his lifestyle," the judge wrote in a 10-page order signed Friday afternoon. "That, however, is not what is in issue here."
Mr. Barnes said last night that he stands by his statements. "I had no ill will toward Jeff Griffith," he said.
Mr. Griffith, who has alleged the traffic stop Jan. 11, 1990, in Westminster was politically motivated, said yesterday that he was not completely disappointed with the ruling.
"It is clear the judge is offended at what happened," Mr. Griffith said from his Westminster law office. "There is a point that had to be made and I think I made it. I wasn't Don Quixote tilting at windmills. It was a close call."
Mr. Griffith filed his suit two years ago, alleging that the drug task force -- then led by W. Samuel Truette, who is now a public defender in Howard County -- was used in a conspiracy to entrap him during his run for a state Senate seat. He lost that election.
Mr. Truette declined to comment on the ruling yesterday.
According to Judge Motz's ruling, Mr. Barnes told Mr. Truette of several conversations he had with his then-fiancee, Carmen Amedori. Ms. Amedori was a reporter for the Carroll County Times covering a Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City during the summer of 1989.
During that convention, Ms. Amedori told Mr. Barnes that Mr. Griffith had told her "he and his girlfriend had smoked marijuana while driving in a little sports car."
Mr. Barnes told Mr. Truette of the conversation.
While both Mr. Barnes and his wife told lawyers in Mr. Griffith's case that the conversations took place, Mr. Griffith denies that the conversation ever occurred.
The lawyer did say yesterday that he occasionally smoked marijuana in the early 1970s before he "realized how wrong and )) stupid it was."
Four days before Mr. Griffith's car was sniffed by drug-detecting dogs and he was pulled over and searched, Mr. Barnes said he toldMr. Truette of another conversation he had with Scott W. Markle, a prominent Carroll Democrat who would become Mr. Barnes' campaign manager during his unsuccessful state's attorney's bid in 1990.
According to Judge Motz's decision, Mr. Barnes told Mr. Truette that Mr. Markle had told him that Mr. Griffith offered a marijuana cigarette to county budget director Steven D. Powell at a political function.
Mr. Griffith yesterday "categorically" denied making such an offer; Mr. Powell also denied having the offer made to him. "I'm not sure how I got involved in all of this," Mr. Powell said. "Mr. Griffith and I never had that conversation."
For his part, Mr. Markle -- who in April 1990 was stopped by the drug task force and searched for drugs and never charged with a crime -- recalled having the conversation with Mr. Barnes. Only he said he told Mr. Barnes of a rumor that had been told to him -- after Mr. Griffith's much-publicized traffic stop.
Judge Motz wrote that the investigation instigated at Mr. Truette's behest was based on less than concrete information. The judge said Mr. Truette's three independent confidential informants "had no direct knowledge of [Mr. Griffith's] alleged marijuana use."
Word of the dismissal of Mr. Griffith's suit comes a week before the state's attorney's election, just as a report on the case by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli did four years ago.
The issue was a central theme in the election between Mr. Barnes and his one-time boss, Carroll State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who is now running against Mr. Barnes and Westminster Democrat Linda A. Holmes as a write-in candidate.
Last night, Mr. Barnes said, "Judge Motz, in his assessment, indicated that my role was just one small piece of the larger puzzle. I did what we ask ordinary citizens to do every day, and that is, if they have knowledge of a crime, they should relate it to an appropriate law enforcement agency."