Register of wills race is no sleeper Connolly, McDonough enliven county campaign

October 19, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

As political offices go, register of wills would seem to be a sleeper. Not many people know what the job entails -- let alone for whom to vote.

But in Baltimore County, where the illness -- and subsequent death -- of 20-year incumbent Peter J. Basilone opened up the little-known, $75,000-a-year job, the campaign is bubbling with political sniping and jockeying.

The Republican nominee, perennial candidate Patrick McDonough, has accused his Democratic opponent, former Orphans' Court Chief Judge Grace G. Connolly, of misusing her campaign funds three years ago to make a loan to a private organization, in violation of state law.

But McDonough can't find anybody to investigate the matter. His lawyer has been turned down by the Board of Elections and the state prosecutor.

"We are not conducting any investigation into the complaint," said Thomas M. McDonough, assistant state prosecutor and no relation to the candidate, because the transaction took place beyond the statute of limitations.

The Republican hopeful accuses his opponent of being unethical for accepting campaign contributions from lawyers who might have appeared before her in Orphans' Court.

"It's improper. The legislature should outlaw lawyers contributing to judges," said Patrick McDonough.

But Connolly said, "There's nothing unethical" about a judge receiving contributions from lawyers. "When you're in the courthouse, that's who you deal with. It's the way you raise money when you're part of the courthouse team."

As for the $2,500 loan from her campaign fund, which her opponent has questioned, Connolly said her campaign treasurer advised it was legal for her to lend the money to a travel agency to hold tickets for a trip planned by an Italian law club.

Despite the refusal of state election officials to investigate the matter, Patrick McDonough argues it was illegal for Connolly to use campaign funds for such an activity. He says Connolly made the loan during a period when, as a judge, she was banned from campaign activities.

Connolly counters, "My campaign fund is an open book. I have nothing to hide."

She criticized her opponent for running on a platform to eliminate the state's inheritance tax.

"He is running for the wrong office. This needs to be done in the legislature, and he would have no authority to accomplish this goal," Connolly wrote to newspapers.

Connolly, 55, was an Orphans' Court judge for 12 years. That position, ruling on contested wills and estates, works in tandem with the register of wills. She also is the Maryland representative to the National College of Probate Judges. She resigned her post this year to run for register of wills.

Patrick McDonough, 55, a WCBM radio talk show host, is a former Democrat and state delegate from East Baltimore. In 1992, he was fired for having "philosophical differences" with his boss in the county's Economic Development Commission after managing County Executive Roger B. Hayden's successful 1990 campaign.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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