Verdict doesn't erase Young's ethical breach

Annapolis: Despite jury's acquittal, state Senate should have no misgivings about expulsion vote.

September 28, 1999

THE PRINCIPALS in the corruption trial of former state senator Larry Young emerge with deep bruises.

The prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, failed to win a conviction despite a significant store of incriminating evidence. And though the judge dismissed extortion charges and the jury returned not guilty verdicts on tax evasion and bribery charges, Mr. Young clearly engaged in behavior unbecoming of a public dog catcher, let alone a state senator.

The Senate should have no misgivings about its decision to expel him two years ago. Voters should rest assured that they are better served by someone other than Mr. Young in the legislature.

The state alleged that Mr. Young took $72,000 from the executive of a health care company that needed big-league political help: It was seeking designation as a health maintenance organization. That status would allow the executive's company to compete in the lucrative Medicare market. Mr. Young, then the state Senate's leading voice on health matters, had influence among regulators who approve or reject HMO applications.

The jury found that Mr. Young's behavior, as presented by the state, did not amount to bribery. One juror said he and his colleagues felt Mr. Young "probably got the money." But, he added, the state failed to prove it convincingly.

Does that mean Mr. Young's behavior was ethical, or right? Of course not. The state Senate had far more than the law to consider when it voted to expel Mr. Young. Members had to think of their own ethical standards, which are tied directly to their credibility with voters. If citizens are to have confidence in the fairness of the legislature's deliberations, its members must be completely above suspicion.

Mr. Montanarelli also deserves more than a little blame for botching what appeared to be a solid case. He kicked off the trial by serving up a fat pitch to the defense: "This is not an easy case to understand," he said.

His star witness -- a financial officer for Diagnostic Health Imaging Systems Inc., the health care company -- also made a shambles of what appeared to be deeply incriminating evidence.

He testified that the letters "LY" and "SLY" were printed on several company checks he handled -- but insisted he did not know what the designations stood for. The defense seized on that confusion with delight.

Was this case prepared for a mock trial at a second-rate law school, or a serious proceeding against a powerful and popular former state senator?

Mr. Montanarelli has some questions to answer about his ability to root out and successfully prosecute public corruption.

Few can love the outcome of this sorry chapter in Maryland's political and criminal justice history.

Mr. Young goes free and may perhaps return to public life.

And the credibility of the state prosecutor takes another hit -- clearly doing nothing to discourage unethical behavior among public servants.

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