Arundel executive writes apology to judge for questioning integrity In interview, Gary implied Greene played favorites in dispute

October 25, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary issued the first public apology of his three years in office yesterday for questioning the integrity of the Circuit Court's top judge.

During an interview with The Sun this week, the Republican suggested that Administrative Judge Clayton Greene Jr. ignored alleged law-breaking by an assistant state's attorney who helped run the campaign for the judge's election.

The Gary administration has asked for a state investigation of whether Trevor Kiessling, head of the county's drug-asset forfeiture unit, routinely lied to Greene and other judges by filing false documents to auction cars seized from drug suspects.

On Friday, Gary sent a letter to the editor of The Sun apologizing to county residents for implying that a "wonderful" judge had tried to cover up wrongdoing by Kiessling, who donated $350 to Greene's 1996 campaign.

"Recent statements made by me and reported in this newspaper regarding Judge Greene and our court system were a clear demonstration of poor judgment on my part. While I could make excuses regarding this issue, they would be unacceptable," Gary wrote.

"Judge Greene is a wonderful man and a person whom I admire and respect. I supported his nomination to the bench when it was sent to the Governor, and I publicly endorsed him when he stood for election. To you the public, I apologize for my actions. You have a right to expect your county executive to conduct himself in a more professional manner."

A famously blunt man who avoids the careful rhetoric of other politicians, Gary is known to speak his mind and shrug it off when he puts his foot in his mouth.

This time, however, he felt moved to apologize because he worried that his angry words had hurt an honest man he regards as a friend, according to Gary's spokeswoman, Lisa Ritter.

Gary's suggestion of favoritism in the courts had become the talk of the county bar association, with dozens of lawyers who donate and support judges' campaigns resenting the implication that this is unethical.

Supporters of the county executive said it is a sign of Gary's honesty that he took what is a rare step for politicians these days: apologizing without making excuses.

"It takes a big man to admit you're wrong. And it takes strength of character to admit you're wrong," said Republican County Councilman William C. Mulford II.

"How many times on the state and national level have we seen fake apologies? Like, 'I'm sorry we raised funds in the White House, but everyone else was doing it.' What we have here is a complete and honest apology," Mulford said.

Mark Snyder, president of the Anne Arundel County Bar Association, said he's glad that Gary admitted his error. But he added this does not erase the fact that Gary's attack on a well-regarded judge was "outrageous."

"Members of the bar were appalled by his statements," Snyder said. "We all really respect Judge Greene. And for him to be attacked like this on a political issue bordered on the bizarre."

Greene had apparently sparked Gary's anger earlier this month by refusing to meet with Gary administration officials and State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee to help resolve a dispute over the county's drug-asset forfeiture program.

Gary's attorneys have argued that the county should take control of the more than $500,000-a-year program away from the state attorney's office.

The Gary administration claims it needs to clean up the program, because Weathersbee's assistant, Kiessling, has repeatedly failed to obtain written approval required from the county's police chief before auctioning cars seized from suspects in drug cases.

Gary argued that Greene should have reported Kiessling to the Attorney Grievance Commission for unethical conduct. Greene said he didn't want anything to do with the matter. Kiessling NTC organized volunteers who put together mailings for Greene's campaign last year. Weathersbee and Kiessling have said Gary is trying to use a petty procedural dispute to hurt Weathersbee before his 1998 re-election campaign.

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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