Republicans assert Democrats tainted redistricting rulings

Gubernatorial candidates, Glendening call actions by legislators inappropriate

May 23, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland Republicans stepped up their criticism yesterday of efforts by Democratic legislators to talk to appellate judges considering lawsuits against the governor's redistricting plan.

Some in the GOP even charged that redistricting decisions made by the Court of Appeals will be politically tainted, despite a written statement from the judges that they feel they can be fair.

Maryland's Attorney Grievance Commission made clear that it has the authority to initiate an investigation of possible improper actions by lawyers. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is a lawyer, is one of four lawmakers who contacted judges about redistricting.

"We can initiate complaints ... that might result from something we read in the newspapers or something that comes to our attention from some other source," said Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the commission. The commission is not allowed to discuss specific investigations.

Miller and two other senators - Ida G. Ruben of Montgomery County and Ulysses Currie of Prince George's - were identified by the court this week as having called judges to talk about redistricting. Del. Ruth M. Kirk of Baltimore wrote a letter to the chief judge, the court said in its one-page statement.

Currie and Ruben serve on the Senate subcommittee that oversees the judiciary's budget. Ruben refused to say yesterday whether her call to a judge who is a longtime friend was at Miller's request. Neither Miller nor Currie returned phone messages yesterday.

The judges reported cutting off the conversations as soon as it became apparent the legislators sought to discuss redistricting.

The Court of Appeals is deciding 14 legal challenges to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's General Assembly redistricting plan. A special master recommended Tuesday that all but one of the lawsuits be rejected, calling for small modifications to two districts on the Eastern Shore.

In a news conference yesterday outside the State House, Republicans sharply criticized Miller and said the court should produce more specifics about what the lawmakers said and wrote.

Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican and House minority leader, said he hopes the judges were not influenced, but believes their decision "will never, ever pass the smell test on Main Street."

Both of the leading candidates for governor - Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - called the lawmakers' actions improper yesterday.

Ehrlich said the contacts "cross very serious ethical lines." A spokesman for Townsend said she "believes everyone should absolutely follow the rules and regulations."

A spokeswoman for Glendening said the governor believes the actions of the legislators "were inappropriate."

The state's Republican Party could decide as soon as today whether to file complaints or additional lawsuits related to the Democratic legislators' actions, said GOP party Chairman Michael S. Steele.

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