Ex-senator to lead case on Young Finney is selected to head ethics panel's inquiry on legislator

Independent counsel

Assembly's leaders pick Republican who prosecuted Mandel

December 23, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Scott Higham contributed to this article.

The General Assembly's presiding officers have tapped a former federal prosecutor and Republican lawmaker to lead the legislature's investigation of possible violations of state ethics laws by Sen. Larry Young.

Former U.S. Attorney Jervis S. Finney, who supervised the prosecution of former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel in the 1970s, will serve as independent counsel to the legislature's ethics committee in the Young inquiry, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. announced yesterday.

Determined to have a report from the committee by the start of the Assembly's annual 90-day session Jan. 14, Miller and Taylor concluded last week that outside help was needed for the panel's investigation of Young's business activities.

In Finney, the presiding officers found an independent counsel with seemingly unassailable credentials for handling a politically sensitive investigation.

"He has prosecutorial experience. He has legislative experience," said Miller. "But most of all, he's a person of unquestioned integrity."

Finney, 66, who was a state senator from Baltimore County from 1967 to 1975, said he welcomed the chance to get involved in the Young case.

"It is a public service," he said. "I love the Senate of Maryland. I appreciate the opportunity for trying to uphold their standards and processes."

The ethics inquiry, as well as a separate criminal probe by the state prosecutor's office, were sparked by an investigation by The Sun into Young's financial affairs. This month, the paper reported how Young, a West Baltimore Democrat, has used his legislative position to benefit three companies he created.

His LY Group, for example, received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a mental health company that does business with the state. Young failed to report the fees to the ethics committee.

Young also has used his taxpayer-funded district office to run his private companies, the newspaper reported.

Young has denied any wrongdoing and has said he welcomes the ethics investigation.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., who heads the 12-member ethics committee, raised the possibility of hiring outside counsel more than two weeks ago, and told Taylor and Miller last week that he would clearly need the help.

Montague, a Baltimore Democrat, had earlier collected names of lawyers who could assist with the inquiry, including Finney's, and the presiding officers selected him last week.

Finney, now a partner in a Baltimore firm, will charge the state $210 an hour, which he said included a "public service discount" from his normal fee of $275. There was no cap set on the number of hours for which he could bill the state.

Finney said he expects to work almost full time on the Young case, and while he said he was not sure if the investigation would be concluded by the presiding officers' deadline of Jan. 14, he vowed to try.

He said he understood the difference between the inquiry he will conduct -- involving possible civil violations of ethics law governing conduct by legislators -- and the criminal investigation being conducted by the state prosecutor's office.

"This proceeding is significantly more focused," he said.

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University law school, Finney served two terms as a state senator from north-central Baltimore County.

In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford named him U.S. attorney for Maryland, and Finney served as the state's top federal prosecutor until 1978.

In his most highly publicized case, Finney headed the office during the Mandel prosecution on mail fraud and racketeering charges. Mandel's conviction was eventually overturned on appeal.

In 1979, Gov. Harry R. Hughes appointed Finney to a four-year term on the newly created State Ethics Commission, which handles ethical questions involving Maryland public officials except for judges and legislators. Finney also served on a panel that suggested revisions to the state's ethics law in 1993 and 1994.

Finney is a partner with the firm of Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver, specializing in areas including product liability, white-collar crime and professional malpractice.

The choice of Finney as independent counsel was praised by lawyers who know him.

"If the job has any teeth to it, he is an excellent person to perform it," said Arnold Weiner, who represented Mandel during his criminal trial. "He comes from a party other than the majority party. He has no political allegiances or alliances to worry about."

George Beall, whom Finney succeeded as U.S. attorney, called him the "ideal selection."

"He is particularly qualified because of his combination of prosecutorial and legislative experience," said Beall.

State Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Republican who represents the same district that Finney once did in the Senate, also called Finney a solid choice. But Boozer said he doubts that Finney and the ethics committee can do a thorough job by Jan. 14.

"There's no way you can do it by then," said Boozer, a lawyer who has represented some public officials in criminal matters. "I just don't think it's possible."

The ethics committee, which has met once on the Young matter, sent Young a letter this month outlining 20 possible ethics violations based on The Sun's reporting.

The committee has given him until tomorrow to provide documents and has asked him to appear at a Jan. 6 hearing to discuss the matter. Young has informed the committee that he is invoking his right under state law to close that hearing to the news media and public.

Similarly, the ethics committee, citing confidentiality provisions in state law, has refused to make public its letter to Young that outlines potential violations.

The last time outside counsel was hired to assist the ethics committee came more than 15 years ago, in a conflict-of-interest case involving then Del. Frank Santangelo of Prince George's County.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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