Blount battles Boston lawsuit Senate majority leader, challenger differ over what constitutes home

August 25, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

At 3410 Copley Road, there is no telephone and only a futon for the state Senate majority leader to sleep on. But yesterday, Sen. Clarence W. Blount argued in court that the Baltimore apartment is his home.

Blount's political challenger, Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., calls the house a mail drop.

Yesterday, the legal battle over Blount's residency in the 41st Legislative District he has represented for more than 27 years got under way in an Anne Arundel County court. Boston is requesting that Blount's name be struck from the September Democratic ballot because Blount does not meet the residency requirements for the job.

A decision from Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney is expected by late today.

Blount does not dispute that he spends little time at the Copley Road apartment in Northwest Baltimore. His attorneys said yesterday that he spends the night there 5 percent or 10 percent of the time -- about three nights a month. Most nights he sleeps at a Pikesville condominium he and his wife bought for retirement three years ago.

But Blount, 77, maintains that what he is doing is legal. The law has certain definitions for "domicile," and Blount says the apartment, which he rents for $375 a month, conforms. The apartment is home to his stepson.

"The law doesn't say how often you sleep there, how often you eat there or how often you do anything else," a weary-looking Blount said yesterday outside court.

"Most people don't care one way or the other, I suspect," said Blount, who is seeking an eighth term in office.

Lawmakers can own multiple properties. But state law requires that they have one legal residence, interpreted in past court cases as where they sleep and which is their voting address. The defendant argues that other factors can also be considered -- such as the address on tax returns, where cars are registered and links to the community.

The challenge by Boston, 59, a three-term member of the House of Delegates, has prompted criticism from Blount's friends and colleagues -- including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Some view the suit as an effort by Boston to bump his opponent out of the race.

But rumors about Blount's residency have dogged him for years.

Boston testified yesterday that after Blount filed for re-election in June, Boston began receiving telephone calls about the issue from angry constituents. Legislators should live in the district they represent, Boston testified.

"I see the drug addiction. I see the prostitution. I see the alcoholism. I feel [that] if you are going to represent [people] you have to live with people, feel their pain, feel their joy," he testified.

As he spoke, about 20 Blount supporters who had come by bus from Baltimore's Mount Pleasant Baptist Church murmured disapproval that became so loud it was difficult to hear his testimony. The judge ordered them to be silent.

In July, Boston hired a private investigator who conducted surveillance at the Copley Road house. Michael Widenhouse testified yesterday that one neighbor he interviewed said the second-floor apartment was vacant. One morning, Widenhouse videotaped Blount's wife picking up mail at 5: 30 a.m.

Widenhouse filmed the inside of the home down to the contents of the refrigerator -- an egg, chocolate syrup, jelly, soda and water.

Another investigator said he went by the house every morning and night for all but three days from Aug. 3 to 23. He rang the doorbell and knocked on the door, but no one answered.

"All we have at Copley Road is a mail drop," Boston's attorney, Steven A. Allen, said in opening statements yesterday. "If Senator Blount is successful in creating this facade, he essentially says to every politician in the state of Maryland [that] all you need to get around the residency requirement is rent a room and have your mail delivered there."

Blount's attorneys argue that the apartment meets the legal definition of residency and say Boston must show that Blount has abandoned the domicile for him to be ineligible to run.

Boston "only cares about winning," said Blount's attorney, George A. Nilson.

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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