Approval of deal on profiling delayed

Kopp, Schaefer defer to Ehrlich's request to look at settlement

January 08, 2003|By Michael Dresser and Laura Barnhardt | Michael Dresser and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Two of the three members of the Maryland Board of Public Works have agreed to Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s request to defer consideration of the state's historic settlement of a racial-profiling lawsuit until Gov. Parris N. Glendening has left office.

The settlement between the Maryland State Police and Robert L. Wilkins, an African-American attorney who was pulled over and asked to consent to a drug search in 1992, was expected to be taken up at today's board meeting - the last at which Glendening will preside.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, one of the board members, said last night that even though she supports the agreement negotiated by the Glendening administration, she would like to postpone voting on it until after Ehrlich takes office Jan. 15.

"I don't think it's fair to vote on this at the midnight hour," she said. "I've been told by my staff that the governor-elect would like this deferred because he'd like more time to look at the settlement and because he'll be the one to implement it."

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the third board member and a fierce foe of Glendening, also supports postponing approval of the settlement, first disclosed last week.

Michael Golden, Schaefer's spokesman, said the comptroller "thinks it's appropriate that the next governor has an opportunity to take a look at this."

Paul Schurick, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said last night that the governor-elect's representatives had contacted Kopp and Schaefer to express concern that the agreement "deserves a more thorough review by the incoming state police administration."

Schurick it is too soon to say whether the Ehrlich administration will seek changes in the agreement. The spokesman said that while Ehrlich opposes racial profiling - the police tactic of pulling over drivers solely on the basis of their ethnicity - he supports "criminal profiling."

Charles Porcari, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor's office would have no comment.

But participants in the lengthy negotiations that yielded the settlement said delaying the vote could jeopardize the deal. "Postponing this is the wrong thing to do," said William J. Mertens, the lead outside counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which filed the lawsuit against the state.

"This is not an agreement that can be put back together if it breaks apart," Mertens said. "Jeopardizing it would be a huge and unspeakable tragedy."

Under the agreement, the state would develop a system for tracking and reviewing the race of stopped motorists, establish a police-citizen panel to monitor reports of racial profiling and set up a toll-free telephone number for complaints.

Another provision would require troopers to inform motorists who are asked for consent to search their cars that they have a right to refuse. Those who agree to searches would have to do so in writing.

Ehrlich's decision to review the agreement - and Kopp's agreement to provide the swing vote to defer action - brought criticism from one African-American legislator.

Del. Lisa A. Gladden, who will be sworn in as senator today, called the postponement "ridiculous."

"We don't want to wait for this settlement," the Baltimore Democrat said. "We've had to wait 10 years for this settlement."

Gladden, the lead sponsor of a landmark racial profiling bill passed in 2001, said the agreement "has been hailed as a national model on how to deal with race-based traffic stops." She said she tried unsuccessfully last night to reach Kopp to express her opposition to a delay.

"I would hope the Black Caucus would take a firm position if Kopp sides with Ehrlich," Gladden said. Kopp, a Democrat and former Montgomery delegate, faces re-election by the General Assembly this month.

A more senior African-American lawmaker said he had talked with Kopp and was satisfied with her decision.

"All she did was to agree to allow the governor-elect an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making on this issue," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who heads the House Appropriations Committee. "I don't anticipate, when Ehrlich reviews [the settlement], he will be opposing it."

Schurick, however, said Ehrlich shares some of the concerns of troopers' organizations that have expressed "outrage" over the settlement.

"This thing was negotiated in secret. The rank and file was never permitted to participate," Schurick said. "The governor-elect has said repeatedly that he intends to let the police make the police decisions - not the politicians."

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