Mitchell sees no conflict in bail reform vote

Disclosure about loan spares him, he says

March 09, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who was reprimanded last month for failing to promptly disclose a loan arranged for him by two bail bondsmen, voted yesterday to kill legislation that would have hurt the bail industry's profits.

Mitchell said that because he has now told the General Assembly about the loan, his vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not present a conflict of interest.

"I'm good," said Mitchell, a Baltimore Democrat. "There's no conflict."

William G. Somerville, ethics counsel to the Assembly, agreed. "Having filed the disclaimer of conflict, that permits him to participate fully," he said. "The only exception would be if he or someone he worked for would be the only entity affected by a bill -- which, in this case, is not the case."

Mitchell ran his family's bail bond business until November 1997, when it closed. He received a $10,000 loan that year from Baltimore bus company owner Joe Louis Gladney Sr. The loan was arranged by two city bail bondsmen, John Griffin and Robert M. Campbell, and Campbell co-signed the note.

For five years, Mitchell failed to disclose the outstanding loan on the annual financial disclosure forms lawmakers are required to file with the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. During that time, he sponsored and voted on legislation affecting the bail bond and bus service industries.

The ethics committee deemed his behavior a violation of state ethics law and issued a rare public reprimand last month.

The legislation that failed by a 7-2 vote in the Senate committee yesterday would have allowed defendants to pay the court a refundable deposit to get out of jail, rather than paying a bondsman a nonrefundable fee. The measure would have cut severely into the bail bond business.

Mitchell said he did not support the proposal because judges have the ability to use the refundable deposit if they choose. "The 10 percent option already exists in the law," he said.

He also said that if the bill had had more support from his committee colleagues, he might have voted for it.

Mitchell said he preferred a bail reform measure that would require public defenders to represent poor defendants at bail review hearings before a judge. That proposal has come before legislators many times before. In 1999, Mitchell was blamed for helping to kill such legislation in a 6-5 committee vote -- after lobbying for weeks on its behalf.

Since then, however, he has voted in favor of similar bail review bills.

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