Race profiling advisory panel concern raised

Ehrlich has a problem with makeup of group called for in settlement

ACLU disputes his interpretation

Black Caucus leaders urge governor to sign off on the agreement

February 07, 2003|By Michael Dresser and Laura Barnhardt | Michael Dresser and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told the Legislative Black Caucus yesterday that he has problems - "big time" - with a key provision of the racial profiling settlement negotiated under the Glendening administration.

Ehrlich, who has delayed action on the deal, criticized the composition of an oversight panel that state lawyers agreed to as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit against the Maryland State Police for alleged discrimination against African-Americans in traffic stops and searches.

In brief remarks, Ehrlich said he objected to the American Civil Liberties Union being allowed to appoint five members of the panel. The ACLU, however, disputed his interpretation of the provision.

The agreement states that the police-citizen advisory committee would consist of 15 members, "five to be selected by the Maryland State Police, five to be selected by the NAACP, and five to be selected by a neutral third party."

"The neutral third party will be selected by the parties [involved in the lawsuit], or, if they are unable to agree, by the parties with the assistance of the court," according to the 20-page consent decree filed in federal court.

ACLU attorneys are representing 14 minority motorists in the class action lawsuit who claim they were stopped by troopers solely on the basis of their ethnicity. The ACLU is not a plaintiff in the case.

"The ACLU would have no more input into the selection of the remaining five people than the attorney general's office - the lawyers for the state police - would have," said Reginald T. Shuford, an ACLU lawyer.

Ehrlich and state police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, accompanied by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, met with the all-Democratic caucus yesterday to discuss a wide variety of issues - from slot machines to charter schools.

The profiling settlement was the first issue caucus members wanted to talk about, however.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat and the caucus' point person on the issue, pressed Ehrlich to sign off on the settlement.

Ehrlich and Norris asked the caucus members for patience while they reviewed the settlement.

Robert L. Wilkins, the Washington defense attorney who began the legal battle in 1992 after he was stopped by a state trooper in Cumberland and refused to consent to having his car searched, said he was "confused" by Ehrlich's criticism yesterday of the settlement.

But Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said it appeared the governor hadn't read the proposed agreement. "I frankly couldn't believe that a governor would be so misinformed on an issue as important as this is to such a large part of his constituency," she said. "It doesn't appear he's taking this seriously."

Goering, who pointed out the police-citizen panel would only be advisory and exist for one year, said she resented suggestions that the agreement was proposed at the last minute.

A settlement was proposed last summer. However, the $325,000 settlement was put on the agenda of the Board of Public Works last month, just before Gov. Parris N. Glendening left office. The board, made up of the governor, treasurer and comptroller, must decide whether to approve the deal. Ehrlich asked the board to delay action until he could finish reviewing it. And black lawmakers have been pressuring him to vote on the proposed settlement.

At times during yesterday's meeting, Norris portrayed the changes he is seeking as benign amendments to strengthen and update the agreement. "The only thing we're asking is a chance to look at it and make it our own," Norris said.

In other statements, Norris hinted at more fundamental reservations about the agreement. "Frankly, I don't think it was that well done," he said.

But Gladden persisted, telling Norris, "We just want an agreement signed. You want to do more, then do more on your own."

Ehrlich resisted the suggestion, telling the lawmakers, "I'm going to do what's best for the state - not for my short-term political calculation."

After the meeting, Gladden did receive an appointment to meet with Ehrlich after she followed him on to an elevator.

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