Senators delay vote on 2 state nominees

Small groups take issue with police chief Norris, openly gay district judge

February 08, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Two small groups of state senators have delayed the nominations of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s selection for state police superintendent and an openly gay judge, portending public criticism of the picks next week.

State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris and Baltimore City District Court Judge Halee F. Weinstein were scheduled to receive final Senate approval yesterday, having earned the blessing of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee earlier in the week.

But now a final decision won't come before Tuesday, after some senators asked that the names be removed from a list of 13 nominees up for a vote.

Sen. George W. Della Jr. of Baltimore said he planned to raise questions about Norris, the former Baltimore police commissioner charged with fulfilling Mayor Martin O'Malley's commitment to make city streets safer.

"I've got some concerns. My colleagues have some concerns," Della said yesterday, refusing to specify his objections.

At Monday's committee meeting, Norris fielded more questions than any other nominee. Senators grilled him on why he left the city after three years, as well as over a discretionary account he used to buy meals and gifts while he was police chief.

While Della asked to wait until Tuesday for a vote, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden of Baltimore said she would seek a longer delay. Gladden said she supports Norris, but wants his confirmation vote postponed until the state approves a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union in a decade-long racial profiling case.

Gladden said she will ask that the vote on Norris be held Feb. 20, the day after the next meeting of the state Board of Public Works, which is considering the racial profiling case.

Norris has expressed concern with some parts of the settlement, and Ehrlich has echoed those worries. The settlement to the class action lawsuit regarding alleged discrimination in searches of black motorists includes new guidelines and standards for the Maryland State Police.

"We just want to heighten the dialogue," Gladden said. "I know I'm going to get in trouble. But this is my cause."

In an interview yesterday, Ehrlich said the settlement issue would be resolved soon - "more a function of days than weeks," he said. He predicted that questions about Norris' candidacy would fade.

"I don't see this as a big deal," he said. "We'll be able to get to `yes.'"

Questions about Weinstein - an appointee of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening - were raised by Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick, one of the Senate's most conservative members.

A former assistant state's attorney, Weinstein was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army before her discharge in 1986.

Because she enlisted in the Army before President Bill Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy went into effect, Weinstein must have lied about her sexual orientation on personnel forms, Mooney asserts.

"She falsified documents to the federal government under oath," Mooney said. "It's an ethical issue. As a judge, you have to be held to higher standards."

Weinstein attended yesterday's Senate session but would not comment on Mooney's allegations.

Supporters who joined her said she has served with distinction on the bench since her appointment in July.

"I consider her a fair judge who is acquitting herself well on the bench," said Chief District Judge James N. Vaughan. "I sincerely hope she is confirmed by the Senate."

Added Baltimore District Judge Gale E. Rasin: "She's a person of the highest integrity. She was an outstanding prosecutor, was fair, and treated people with dignity. She's just the kind of person you'd want on the bench."

Even though Weinstein is an appointee of Glendening's, Ehrlich said yesterday he believes she is a strong candidate for the post and possesses the right judicial temperament. He said he would speak to Mooney about his objections.

Asked whether a request from the governor would derail his opposition, Mooney said: "You are going to have to ask me that after our conversation."

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

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