Panel is still out on Young Ethics committee deliberates 9 1/2 hours, doesn't reach verdict

January 09, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and JoAnna Daemmrich | William F. Zorzi Jr. and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

The Maryland General Assembly's ethics committee deliberated for nearly 9 1/2 hours behind closed doors yesterday -- only to emerge without a verdict on whether state Sen. Larry Young used his office to benefit personal businesses.

After a day in which they sent out for sandwiches, canceled speaking engagements and skipped dinner, lawmakers had little say beyond that they had not come to a final consensus.

"We obviously had long debates and discussions," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who co-chairs the committee. "We haven't finalized anything."

Added Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat from Baltimore County and the other co-chairman, "I think it's important to take some hours to reflect."

Committee members weren't even in agreement after the marathon session on whether they're close to resolving all the issues before them.

Sen. Jean W. Roesser, a Montgomery County Republican, said, "We're getting there." But Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, disagreed: "We have a long way to go in terms of our decision-making."

Montague did say committee members have no questions left about the facts in the inquiry that began last month after The Sun reported that Young had used his position to benefit three companies he created.

"I think we're at the point where there are no outstanding questions we don't know the answers to," Montague said. "We exhausted our questions."

In the committee's first session Tuesday, Young strongly defended himself for five hours as he sought to refute more than 20 potential violations the panel identified last month. Yesterday, the panel received additional documents from Young's lawyers responding to questions raised at the earlier hearing, Montague said.

In December, the newspaper reported that Young's LY Group received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a mental health company that does business with the state. Young, who chairs the Senate Finance health subcommittee, failed to report the fees to the ethics committee.

Similarly, he did not report to the ethics committee that he had a no-bid consulting contract with Coppin State College that paid him as much as $300 an hour. He did, however, report that contract to the State Ethics Commission. State education officials canceled the contract last month.

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

The Baltimore Democrat, now in his 24th year in office, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but chose to keep the ethics committee proceedings closed to the public. He also has refused repeated requests to be interviewed by The Sun.

The senator stuck to his normal routine yesterday, working in his district office, said his lawyer, Gregg L. Bernstein, who described his day as "no different than any other."

The ethics committee, which includes nine Democrats and three Republicans, will reconvene Monday to take up the matter again. Montague said he is still optimistic about meeting the deadline set by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. -- to submit a report to the two men before noon Wednesday, when the legislature's 90-day session begins.

The presiding officers hope to have the Young matter resolved by that date to avoid having the ethics investigation overshadow the legislative session.

The ethics committee is weighing possible civil violations of ethics laws, while the Maryland state prosecutor is looking at whether Young may have broken any criminal statutes.

The committee could recommend that Young be disciplined or expelled for any infractions, though the full 47-member Senate would have to vote on any disciplinary action.

Yesterday, Miller proposed that an outside group review the state ethics laws, enacted a quarter-century ago.

Miller said he believes that it is time to re-evaluate whether the legislature's self-policing tradition is appropriate in the 1990s.

"The possibilities of conflicts are always on the horizon" with a part-time legislature, where the overwhelming majority of the 188 members have other jobs as well, Miller said.

"We have to look at whether disclosure is enough," the Prince George's Democrat said. "We have to make certain that we have the tools to deal with situations like this and that what we have done is more than adequate."

PTC Once the ethics committee finishes its investigation of Young, he said, he plans to get together with Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat, and choose a panel to examine the ethics laws in other states and make recommendations for reforms.

The group, he suggested, could include such prominent figures as Robert C. Murphy, former chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, and Stephen H. Sachs, former attorney general.

Among the questions the group would address is the committee's practice of meeting behind closed doors. The committee has always conducted its business privately, largely to protect the reputations of lawmakers facing unsubstantiated complaints.

"I would enthusiastically work with the [Senate] president on creating a strategy to assure the highest ethical standards to apply to the Maryland legislature," Taylor said.

The speaker was quick to say that he was not critical of the current rules and laws.

"Over the long history of our legislature, we have maintained a high level of ethical standards," he said. "However, the complexities of modern life may warrant a review of our current standards."

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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