Ruben links call to Miller

He suggested she contact judge, senator testifies

Redistricting case at issue

Ethics panel investigates accusation of impropriety

August 10, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In testimony before the General Assembly's ethics committee, Sen. Ida G. Ruben said yesterday she contacted a Court of Appeals judge about the state's redistricting plan only after Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller suggested she do so.

Ruben, one of six state lawmakers appearing before the committee in Annapolis, said Miller called her to the Senate chamber podium during this year's legislative session to talk to her about lawsuits filed against the governor's redistricting plan.

She said Miller told her that her county, Montgomery, and neighboring Prince George's could be negatively affected if the lawsuits were successful, and that he suggested she call a friend on the bench, Judge Irma S. Raker.

"Yes, I did call Judge Raker," Ruben told the committee. "I asked her, `Is it inappropriate for me to ask you any questions about redistricting?' She said, `Yes, it's inappropriate.' I said, `Stop right there.' "

Ruben's testimony visibly disturbed some committee members. The panel is conducting an inquiry into a complaint by Michael S. Steele, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, that Miller orchestrated an attempt to influence Maryland's top judges as they considered the redistricting lawsuits.

Five senators and one delegate appeared during the daylong hearing -- some in closed session -- to discuss why they contacted the court about the lawsuits in possible violation of state law. All are Democrats.

"The whole thing is a question of whether there was an attempt to influence a court case," Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and committee co-chairman, said during the hearing.

Miller criticized Steele's complaint as a groundless, partisan attack that never should have made its way to the committee. "These charges are totally false," Miller said before addressing the panel. "They've hurt me personally, my family, my constituents."

As for Ruben's testimony, Miller said he does not believe he said anything inappropriate to her. "I don't recall the conversation with Senator Ruben," he said. "I do know that I never told her to call anybody. I do know that Senator Ruben never told me that she called anybody."

In her testimony, Ruben said Miller did not order her to call Raker but simply suggested that she might contact the judge. She said she did not take that as pressure or a command of any kind.

But her account of the conversation troubled some committee members. "This is going downhill," Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said to Del. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, as Ruben spoke. "This is serious stuff."

In addition to Ruben, Sens. Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore and Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel County also invited the media to hear their testimony. The committee generally considers testimony confidential unless a lawmaker being questioned makes it public.

Blount said he never spoke to Miller about approaching the judges. He said he invited Chief Judge Robert M. Bell to his legislative office March 8 to talk about issues related to Dunbar High School, where the senator once was an assistant principal and Bell was a student.

He said he asked Bell, " `How's the redistricting going?' He said, `We won't talk about that.' " Blount said he asked the question simply out of concern for Bell as he handled a difficult issue.

"As soon as it was raised, the lights went out," Blount said.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat and ethics committee member, said during questioning of Blount that a lawmaker who testified in closed session described having a five- to 10-minute conversation with Bell about the redistricting plan.

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