Miller defends calls to judges

Senate president's lawyer discusses remarks official made during redistricting

`Mischaracterized' by GOP

Md. Republican official dismisses portrayal, says party stands by complaint

July 02, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller mounted an aggressive defense of his comments to judges of the state's highest court yesterday, contending that Republican leaders filed a complaint alleging professional misconduct for "purely political purposes."

In a letter to the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission, Miller's attorney, George L. Russell, said Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele "mischaracterized" Miller's remarks to two Court of Appeals judges in connection with a redistricting case.

Russell released the letter yesterday, saying Miller decided to disclose it so Maryland residents would know his side of an incident in which his behavior has been portrayed by critics as heavy-handed intervention in a pending lawsuit.

The Court of Appeals disclosed in May that four Democratic lawmakers, including Miller, had communicated with some of its members regarding redistricting. The court later added the name of a fifth legislator.

The disclosure prompted Steele to file complaints against Miller with the attorney grievance panel, the State Ethics Commission and the General Assembly's ethics committee.

Steele said Miller's statements amounted to an "unethical and possibly illegal" attempt to influence the redistricting process.

Russell's letter portrays the communications as more benign comments on a decision the judges had already made.

According to Russell, Miller called Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. in April to confirm a speaking invitation extended to the judge and a planned tour of the new Miller Senate Office Building. Miller's lawyer wrote that toward the end of that conversation, the Senate president described as "really crazy" a procedural decision the judges had handed down April 11 on burden of proof in the redistricting case.

Miller's account said Harrell did not respond and that there was no further discussion of the matter. He said the call ended cordially, with no indication that Harrell believed the comment was improper.

Russell's letter said Miller called Judge Alan M. Wilner about the same time to express his misgivings about the Assembly's passage of a bill on the last night of the legislative session that invalidated a court ruling issued earlier that day. Miller said he expressed the hope that the bill's passage wouldn't create new tensions between the appeals court and the legislature.

During that conversation, Miller acknowledges, the conversation turned to the redistricting ruling. The Senate president said he told Wilner that burden-of-proof ruling "didn't make sense" and expressed the hope that the redistricting case would be decided "based on what's right legally and nothing else."

Russell's letter said Miller's conversations were legal because the Senate president was not trying to influence the court about a future decision. Russell cited precedents to support his argument that comments to a judge after a decision has been reached on a matter are not illegal or unethical.

The letter criticizes Steele, who was named yesterday as Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gubernatorial running mate, for publicizing his complaint.

"I point out these facts only to illustrate that the complainant's motivations appear to be highly partisan and to point out the dangers of allowing political party officials to use the attorney disciplinary process for purely political purposes," Russell wrote.

Paul D. Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, dismissed Miller's defense as "feeble" and said the GOP stands by its complaint. "It was Senator Miller by his own admission who said he did call them up and yell at them," he said. "By his own admission, he refuses to comply with the law. He is an attorney. He should know better."

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