Sworn forfeiture statements are not 'technicalities'A...


October 26, 1997

Sworn forfeiture statements are not 'technicalities'

A response is required to the commentary by Brian Sullam, The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County, on the controversy over vehicle forfeitures in Anne Arundel ("It's not cars and drugs, it's money and power," Oct. 12).

The obligation of an assistant state's attorney to be truthful in sworn statements to the court is more than an "important technicality."

In dozens of cases, an assistant state's attorney for Anne Arundel County represented under oath to the court that the Anne Arundel County Chief of Police personally had determined that a vehicle should be forfeited and that the chief had sent a written confirmation of that decision to the state's attorney, when in fact the chief had done neither.

It is conceivable that Mr. Sullam simply misunderstood the issue. In his column, he concluded that "failing to have [Anne Arundel Police Chief Larry W.] Tolliver sign off on the paperwork is not a criminal violation by any stretch."

Mr. Sullam missed the entire point. The problem isn't just that the chief of police failed to "sign off on the paperwork." The problem is that the assistant state's attorney swore under the penalties of perjury that the chief had signed off, when the necessary "paperwork" (not to mention the factual review and determination itself) had not been done. The Sun's reporter, Tom Pelton, accurately framed the issue in his article on the subject.

Mr. Sullam similarly discounted the remainder of the county's concerns over the handling of motor vehicle forfeitures as "petty squabbling." Those concerns include the failure of the state's attorney to abide by the requirement that the county purchasing agent supervise the sale of forfeited vehicles, and to abide by the requirement that only employees of the county's central garage who have been given power of attorney sign documents transferring titles to vehicles.

In public comments by an employee of the state's attorney, these procedural safeguards were disparaged as "bureaucracy." As a red herring dragged across his path (one eagerly pursued by Mr. Sullam), the state's attorney described a heroic instance in which he cut through this "red tape" to sell a car at a nominal price to a needy individual.

Again, the issue is not whether a particular individual deserved a car. The issue is obedience to county laws, and integrity of the process of disposing of forfeited vehicles. What Mr. Sullam did not mention was that the state's attorney conducted the sales of forfeited vehicles by sealed bid, and that the bids were opened in the privacy of the state's attorney's office by his employees.

These same employees decided who were the successful bidders, and signed the documents transferring vehicle titles to the successful bidders. Despite the obvious appearance of a conflict of interest, employees of the state's attorney and their spouses were allowed to bid on the vehicles. In molding the facts to suit his own little conspiracy theory, Mr. Sullam took a few other liberties.

In his convoluted attempt to link the forfeiture controversy to the closed investigation of two county landfill employees, Mr. Sullam conveniently forgot that it was a private investigator hired by County Executive John G. Gary's director of public works who performed the initial investigation and who, with the encouragement and support of Mr. Gary, turned the evidence over to prosecutors.

Also, Mr. Sullam erroneously stated that Mr. Gary "blew up" when the county auditor "began probing" discrepancies in inmate accounts at the county detention center. While Mr. Gary admittedly was peeved when the county auditor reported the findings of her probe directly to the state's attorney rather than to the County Council and the county executive as dictated by the county charter, the insinuation that Mr. Gary somehow objected to the probe itself is absurd.

On the bright side, Mr. Sullam did add to the lexicon of the practice of law in Anne Arundel County: I suspect that more than one lawyer henceforth will refer to the ethical obligation to be truthful in his or her dealings with the court as that "important technicality."

David A. Plymyer


The writer is deputy county attorney for Anne Arundel County.

Artists are getting crabby about BWI's crustacean

You can always tell a slow news day in Anne Arundel County. The last one occurred on July 22, 1992, when The Sun dredged up the whereabouts of the infamous Anne Arundel County stained-glass crab, and chose to report on its life and times.

Oct. 16, 1997: Here we go again. Speaking of beating a dead horse, or crab as the case may be.

I had to wring out my newspaper yesterday. It was soaked from those crocodile tears John Douglass continues to cry over the fate of his beloved "pet."

I was motivated to write in 1992, as now, because the crab story again lacks perspective.

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