NAACP pushes state board to OK profiling settlement

Civil rights group sets deadline, after which it will proceed with lawsuit

March 07, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Maryland NAACP officials said yesterday that if the Board of Public Works does not vote on the proposed racial profiling settlement by March 19, they will scrap the agreement and proceed with their lawsuit.

"This thing has been going on long enough," said Herbert H. Lindsey, president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches. "It needs to be moved on now."

Lindsey is calling on the board, made up of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, to vote at their next meeting on the consent decree that would settle the lawsuit.

But Jervis S. Finney, Ehrlich's legal counsel, said, "The depth and breadth of this proposed consent decree is not aided by such hard-nosed stubbornness. The Maryland State Police, the attorney general's office and all members of the Ehrlich-Steele administration have acted as fast as possible and with the utmost good faith. The issues now appear to be relatively few."

The proposed $325,000 settlement would require policy changes by the state police and would cover legal expenses of minority motorists who claim they were stopped by troopers solely on the basis of their ethnicity.

A federal judge is reviewing several provisions in the consent decree at the request of the governor's office. "We've fulfilled our commitment to submit the points we've asked to have clarified by the presiding judge in a timely fashion," said Shareese N. Deleaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman. "It's in the hands of the judge now."

The governor's office didn't say an agreement wasn't possible by March 19. But Finney said, "It's very difficult to predict the timing of settlement proceedings and it's very unwise."

Black lawmakers emerged from a closed-door meeting with Ehrlich on Feb. 13 confident that a settlement in the decade-old racial profiling case would be resolved within a month. They said they were satisfied that Ehrlich and state police Superintendent Edward T. Norris wanted no substantive changes to the proposed agreement.

Lindsey said he was still hopeful that the deal would be approved. But he and other black leaders said they were concerned about the delays.

"It seems like some progress has been made," said Del. Melony Ghee Griffith, a member of the General Assembly's Black Caucus. "But I'm deeply concerned that we're still here."

Susan Goering, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said, "It's a time-limited agreement. It's inevitable that it will end up in court if this isn't settled quickly. That's unfortunate."

ACLU attorneys are representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and 14 motorists in the class action lawsuit. A settlement must be approved by the Board of Public Works. But the item wasn't put on the board's agenda until the end of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's term.

Ehrlich asked that the decision be delayed, raising questions about provisions such as the contents of a pamphlet that police would give to drivers and the composition of a police-citizen panel to deal with profiling complaints.

A vote on the proposed settlement has not been scheduled since Ehrlich took office.

Mike Golden, a spokesman for Schaefer, said, "When it comes before the Board of Public Works isn't up to the comptroller. It's up to the governor."

Kopp could not be reached for comment.

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