If Young is out, who will be in? Expulsion vote would initiate process set out in Md. Constitution

Ethics Probe Of Senator Young

January 16, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

State Sen. Larry Young's likely expulsion from the Senate today would set off a process for filling the vacancy that is spelled out clearly in the Maryland Constitution -- but is more commonly a straight political deal worked out behind closed doors.

Technically, a vacancy in the Maryland Senate or House of Delegates is filled by the party central committee for the district. Its recommendation is forwarded to the governor, who is bound to appoint the person named.

As a practical matter, though, the five members of the Democratic State Central Committee from Young's West Baltimore district -- the 44th Legislative District -- are loyal to Young.

It is barely conceivable that the seat would be filled without Young either making the decision or heavily influencing the selection.

People in Young's district say they doubt that Young has given much thought to who he wants to see replace him, should he be expelled from the Senate. But the prospect of a vacancy has raised some intriguing speculation.

Legally, there would be nothing in the way of Young's resigning before he is expelled, only to have the central committee vote to send him back to Annapolis.

"The only trouble is, when he comes back, what is waiting for him is a Senate resolution of expulsion," said Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general assigned to the legislature. "But other than delay the inevitable vote, it doesn't do anything."

The Senate resolution to be voted on today is worded so that Young would be expelled for the duration of his elected term -- until next January.

A prospect being raised by some observers -- none of whom would be quoted by name -- suggests that Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, the most vocal of Young's defenders, would finally get the nod for the seat formerly held by his father, Clarence M. Mitchell III, and uncle, Michael B. Mitchell.

The question here is whether Young would want to take the risk of Mitchell becoming comfortable in the seat. Then, Young would not only be campaigning to overcome his legal problems but would find himself in a fight with one of Baltimore's most prominent political families.

"If I were Larry, I'd pick as weak a candidate as possible," said one political observer.

If Young is indicted by the grand jury looking into his case, nothing in Maryland law would prevent him from running to regain his seat in the Sept. 15 primary while he is under indictment. The filing deadline is July 6.

A member of the General Assembly automatically forfeits his or her seat if sentenced for any felony conviction or a misdemeanor related to public duties. Yet that does not mean that such a member cannot return to the legislature.

For the record, West Baltimore politicians say they haven't a clue as to what will happen.

"I have no idea what the central committee might do," said Del. Carmena F. Watson, a former central committee member who became a member of the House of Delegates by the same process in 1996, hand-picked by Young to fill Elijah E. Cummings' seat after his election to Congress.

"I don't see it as cut and dried," Watson said yesterday.

Every effort would likely be made to fill Young's seat as quickly as possible, since the General Assembly ends its 90-day session April 13.

Under the Constitution, the district's central committee members have 30 days to send to the governor the name of the replacement. The governor then must appoint the nominee within 15 days.

Before a decision is publicly announced, the vacancy would likely be advertised, the names and resumes of candidates sought, and finally interviews done by the central committee.

"I would assume the central committee would use an open process," said Watson.

She said she had not heard speculation in Baltimore that she might be selected to finish Young's term. She suggested that perhaps her colleague, Del. Ruth M. Kirk, who has been in the legislature since 1983, would be named.

Kirk declined to comment.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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