Ex-liquor inspector loses bid for old job Whistle-blower failed to prove case, follow filing law, court says

September 10, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Marion P. Turner, the whistle-blower whose allegations of wrongdoing lead to indictments at the Baltimore liquor board, has lost a court appeal in her long battle to win back her post as a liquor inspector.

In a 19-page opinion issued this week, the state Court of Special Appeals concluded that Turner had failed to prove that she lost her job on May 24, 1996, because she refused to break the law in a case involving ousted state Sen. Larry Young. The court also said Turner had forfeited her appeal rights because she did not first file a notice of her intent to sue with the state treasurer.

The decision brought audible sighs of relief from current officials of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, but Turner yesterday said she would continue her fight and carry her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

"The fact of the matter is I'm not surprised," said Turner, who termed the decision "political. I intend to fight this case 100 percent. We know in the long run we will get justice."

Nathan Irby, who took over as executive secretary to the board a year after Turner's dismissal, said he hoped the decision would remove at least "one cloud" that has been hanging over the agency. Among the other troubles alluded to by Irby are the May 6 indictments of the agency's chief inspector and five others on bribery and conspiracy charges.

Irby said that Turner could now apply for a job as a liquor inspector "just like anyone else. We won't hold it against her." He said that beginning next month most of the jobs within the agency will officially come under the city Civil Service Commission, thus eliminating "even the appearance of patronage."

Turner scoffed at Irby's offer. She said she had written a letter of application to the board several months ago only to get a rejection letter by return mail.

Turner got her job under a now defunct system under which liquor inspectors were selected by members of the city's Senate delegation. The General Assembly eliminated that selection process under a statute passed in 1997.

"Until they change the whole liquor board, including the commissioners, I'll have to continue this fight," said Turner.

Gerald Langbaum of the state attorney general's office, which defended the liquor board in the case, said he was pleased by the decision. "It's the result we expected. The complaint was completely without merit."

Turner had charged that she lost her job because she refused to become involved in a pending liquor license application that was backed by Young, who was also her sponsor. Turner said she refused to process the application because Kenneth A. Jackson, a convicted felon, was slated to be involved in the operation of the bar.

Though Jackson was not listed as the owner, he was to be the operator of the West Fayette Street jazz club, to be known as the Cafe Royale. The club never opened.

Turner also charged in her suit that she fell out of favor with Young after it became known that an FBI agent had called her and asked questions about the jazz club application. She said she had refused to answer the agent's questions, but suffered the consequences.

In rejecting Turner's case, the court of Special Appeals affirmed two circuit court decisions that threw out out her complaint before it could go to trial.

"First of all a plaintiff must specify what 'illegal activity' she was asked to engage in and Ms. Turner does not," Judge James P. Salmon wrote in the decision.

He also said that her "vague and conclusory" allegations failed to show how the liquor board's action in her case violated any precept of public policy.

Salmon said other activities cited by Turner, including the selling of tickets to political fund-raisers and attending parties underwritten by liquor-license applicants or license holders were neither illegal nor unethical.

Finally, Salmon wrote, Turner failed to comply with a provision in state law that requires that a formal notice be filed with the state treasurer prior to the filing of a court suit against a public agency such as the liquor board.

While Turner's charges apparently had little impact on the appeals court, they did prompt state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli to initiate the grand jury probe that resulted in the May indictment of the board's chief inspector, Anthony Cianferano, and five others on bribery and conspiracy charges. Two of the defendants have entered guilty pleas. The others are scheduled for trial in January.

Montanarelli and his chief investigator, James I. Cabezas, publicly credited Turner with spurring the probe. Shortly after the indictments were made public Cabezas called Turner "a citizen hero. It's unfortunate," he added, "that the former liquor board terminated her rather than applauding her for her courage."

Montanarelli said yesterday that he had not seen the court decision and declined to comment.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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