Probation adds twist to election

If village candidate wins seat on board, will it cause violation?


March 28, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

An unusual legal question that cropped up during last year's Columbia Council race has surfaced again: Can an election victory constitute a probation violation?

A man who is on probation is running in next month's elections for a seat on the Hickory Ridge Village Board - a position that could put him in contact with the senior Columbia Association official he was convicted of assaulting and ordered to stay away from.

Robert E. O'Brien was on probation for the misdemeanor assault when he ran unsuccessfully for Columbia Council last April.

As a councilman, O'Brien would have had regular contact with Rafia Siddiqui, the association's chief financial officer, who attends council meetings to brief members on financial matters.

Village board members do not interact as much with Siddiqui, but she has attended some of their meetings in recent years, said Jane Parrish, the Hickory Ridge village manager.

In October 2000, Howard County District Judge Alice P. Clark found that O'Brien had assaulted Siddiqui two months earlier after a public hearing on a hotly contested land-annexation plan.

Clark granted O'Brien probation before judgment, which will erase the misdemeanor conviction for second-degree assault from his record if he successfully completes 18 months of supervised probation.

One requirement of his probation is that O'Brien have no contact with Siddiqui. He also must attend an anger-management course.

Racine Winborne, spokeswoman for the parole and probation division of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said his probation is to expire in July.

"Mr. O'Brien continues under our supervision," she said. "He is continuing to seek and receive treatment for anger management as required by the court."

Last year, state probation officials alerted Clark to a potential violation of the no-contact order after The Sun reported on O'Brien's candidacy and probation status. They asked the judge whether a win at the polls would constitute a probation violation.

At the time, Winborne said, it was 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 presented the same "curious" combination of probation and politics.

The question was considered moot when O'Brien lost to incumbent Miles Coffman last year.

Winborne said she planned to alert probation officials to O'Brien's latest run for office after The Sun contacted her yesterday.

In a brief telephone interview yesterday, O'Brien said his probation status should not be an issue in the campaign.

Asked how much contact village board members have with Siddiqui, he said: "They have none."

During last year's council campaign, he said he was optimistic that the judge would allow him to serve on the council if he won.

O'Brien contended that the no-contact order did not prevent him from being in the same room with Siddiqui or speaking with her. He said he was barred only from having physical contact with her.

In a criminal complaint filed in District Court, Siddiqui said O'Brien assaulted her after an August 2000 public hearing on a land-annexation plan that she supported and he opposed.

Grabbing Siddiqui 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 contends she was jostled by the crowd.

O'Brien, 68, is a retired federal employee who said he worked for several government agencies, including the State Department.

He is one of six candidates running for five seats on the Hickory Ridge board, which oversees village programs, a community building and more than $200,000 in annual funding from the Columbia Association.

Elections are April 20.

All of the other candidates are incumbents: Pamila Brown, the current chairwoman, who is seeking her seventh one-year term; Linda Hitzelberger, who has served nine years; Tom Louden, who was elected last year; and Linda Rossiter, who has served four years.

In a written candidate statement, O'Brien says he will work to get heating installed at the outdoor pool at Hawthorn Center.

"I will also work to eliminate the requirement to leash cats and walk them," he wrote.

O'Brien apparently was referring to the county leash law.

Parrish said she puts notices in the village newsletter reminding residents that the law applies to cats as well as other animals.

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