Ruling asked on O'Brien's probation

Would candidate's election lead to conflict? Md. inquires

`I obey the law'

No-contact order stems from assault conviction


March 30, 2001|By Laura Vozzella | By Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

State probation officials alerted a District Court judge yesterday to the potential for a "curious" mix of probation and politics in Columbia.

They reported that a man on probation is running in next month's Columbia Council elections, and that if he wins, he probably will have regular contact with the senior Columbia Association official he was convicted of assaulting last summer.

Robert E. O'Brien was ordered in October, as a requirement of his 18-month supervised probation, to have no contact with Rafia Siddiqui, the association's chief financial officer.

"A report is being written to Judge Alice Clark to bring the matter to her attention. It's up to the judge as to whether this would be a violation of the no-contact order," said Racine Winborne, spokeswoman for the parole and probation division of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Winborne said it is not unusual for probation officials to ask a judge to clarify how to carry out court orders. But she said she was not aware of another case that posed a question like the one O'Brien's situation raises - whether an election victory could constitute a parole violation. "It's certainly curious," she said.

Parole officials decided to report the matter to Clark after The Sun reported the information in yesterday's editions.

O'Brien, 67, said he was optimistic that the judge will allow him to serve on the council if he wins, even though Siddiqui attends council meetings as part of her job. "There shouldn't be any problem with that," he said. "There's going to be nine other people there. To me, it's no problem. I can see Mrs. Siddiqui or I can talk to her."

O'Brien, who contends he did not assault Siddiqui, said he would abide by the judge's decision. "I obey the law," he said. "Whatever the law decides, I'm going to abide by it."

In a criminal complaint filed in District Court, Siddiqui said O'Brien assaulted her after a public hearing Aug. 2 on a land-annexation plan that she supported and he opposed. Grabbing her by one hand and an arm, O'Brien shook and pulled her violently and made threats to "take you down, tear you apart, kick you out and beat you," Siddiqui's complaint states.

O'Brien has acknowledged speaking with Siddiqui as the meeting broke up, but he said she was jostled by the crowd. He called the assault charge "ridiculous."

In October, Clark found O'Brien guilty of second-degree assault, a misdemeanor. The judge granted him probation before judgment, which will erase the conviction from his record if he successfully completes probation.

O'Brien is a vice president of the Howard County Chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees.

He ran unsuccessfully in 1998 and 1999 for the Hickory Ridge seat on the 10-member Columbia Council, which sets policies for the homeowners association and oversees a $44 million annual operating budget. This year, O'Brien is the only challenger to incumbent Miles Coffman, who joined the board in May. The election is April 21.

The two candidates are scheduled to appear at a public forum at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Hickory Ridge Village Center.

O'Brien said yesterday that he was enjoying the publicity the probation case had brought him, noting that friends had called to compliment him on how he looked in a newspaper photograph.

But he said he was looking forward to focusing on other campaign issues. His platform calls for maintaining the current cap on property assessments, heating neighborhood pools and rejecting the land-annexation plan that played a role in his assault conviction, if it comes up again.

"Those are the things I want to talk about, not about these other matters, which don't have anything to do with the campaign," he said.

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