Gary says top judge favors donor Executive claims Greene is being soft on county aide

October 22, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary is accusing the local circuit court's top judge of being soft on alleged law-breaking by an assistant state's attorney who donated to the judge's campaign.

The Gary administration has asked for a state investigation into whether Trevor Kiessling, head of the county drug asset forfeiture program, routinely lied to judges by filing papers falsely claiming that the county police chief had approved the auctioning of cars seized from drug suspects.

Gary's attorney and Kiessling's office have asked Administrative Judge Clayton Greene Jr. to meet with them and help decide whether Kiessling did anything wrong.

On Oct. 6, Greene wrote to both parties saying he would not enter into what some regard as a petty fight over procedures.

During a recent interview, Gary suggested that Greene should have reported Kiessling to the Attorney Grievance Commission,

a court panel that reviews complaints of unethical conduct by lawyers.

Gary also asked whether Greene might have failed to reprimand Kiessling because Kiessling contributed to and volunteered for Greene's election campaign in 1996.

"If I can't get our state court to take care of this, maybe I have to ask the feds to investigate our court system," Gary said.

"If one of the attorneys in my law office signed documents and submitted them to the courts that were fraudulent, I wonder if he [Greene] would have the same attitude toward them."

Kiessling said he did nothing wrong and that he is the victim of a political vendetta by Gary, who he said is trying to embarrass Kiessling's boss, State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee.

Kiessling said he did not violate the law governing the forfeiture program's procedures. Police officials told him he did not have to get written approval from the chief before he auctioned off cars, he said.

State election records show that Kiessling donated $350 to a 1996 campaign committee set up to support the election of Greene and three other judges, Eugene Lerner, Pamela North and Martin Wolff.

Kiessling said he worked on the campaign, organizing volunteers who assembled mailings that were sent to county voters. He said he never asked for favors from the judges.

"I supported these judges because I believe in their honesty and integrity. If anybody believes that me working on their campaigns had any impact on the outcome of cases, they should look at my win-loss record, because I lose cases before these judges, too," Kiessling said.

Greene refused to talk about the case. "This court is not deciding anything about Trevor Kiessling," he said. "I don't want to get into this issue."

Martin Lessans, treasurer for the judges' campaign committee, said the judges, seeking to avoid possible accusations of favoritism, did not want to know who donated to their campaigns.

Hundreds of attorneys across the county routinely donate to the re-election campaigns of judges, and it is not unusual for those lawyers to argue cases before those judges, said Mark Snyder, president of the Anne Arundel County Bar Association.

Among those who contributed to the judges' campaigns last year were Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer, who works for XTC Gary, and William Mulford, an ally of Gary's on the County Council, according to campaign records.

"For Mr. Gary to create an innuendo because Mr. Kiessling contributed to Judge Greene's campaign, I think is inappropriate," said Snyder. He added that he thought it was "distasteful" for Gary to drag a judge with an excellent reputation into the "cat fight" over the forfeiture program.

Douglas L. Colbert, a professor of law at the University of Maryland, said Gary might have a legitimate complaint if Greene knew that Kiessling had supported his campaign.

"If a lawyer said to a judge, 'Judge, I just gave $1,000 to your campaign,' the judge would have an ethical duty to recuse himself from cases involving the attorney," said Colbert.

"On the other hand, if the judge, in fact, did not know who contributed to his campaign, then that shouldn't be a problem."

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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