In Montgomery County, Charles A. Moose, the police chief who headed the sniper investigation, quit after a standoff with the local ethics commission.
In Anne Arundel County, House Speaker Michael E. Busch complained that his county's ethics panel was attempting to hold him to more stringent rules than other delegates are held to.
In Carroll County, commissioners disbanded the county's ethics commission, which they accused of conducting political "witch hunts" against several people, including one of the commissioners.
Across Maryland, local ethics boards and high-profile officials are tangling over everything from cash awards and second jobs. The latest example: Baltimore's ethics board might look into whether City Council members can hire relatives as legislative aides, as well as whether they can accept gifts from some local companies.
Only in Maryland.
Some states rely on one ethics panel to investigate such questions, while cities, towns and counties rely on local prosecutors for advisory opinions. Others have a handful of commissions. But Maryland has 137 groups to enforce ethics laws that vary from county to county and town to town.
"I think you've broken the record by far," said Bob Stern, president of the California-based Center for Governmental Studies and co-author of that state's ethics laws.
Some politicians and others have recently criticized the system, complaining that these panels have come into too much power or have used it to hurt government. Along with Carroll, Anne Arundel County officials have moved to rein in their ethics commission.
But others defend the long list of ethics panels and the rules they enforce. "It is a crazy quilt sometimes," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a political watchdog group, "but I think that can be a good thing."
Supporters say the commissions are essential to good government in Maryland, which has grappled with misconduct by figures as high-ranking as former Govs. Marvin Mandel and Spiro T. Agnew.
At the state level are three ethics panels -- one each for the legislature, judges and all other state employees. Three bi-county agencies have unique ethics laws, while each of the 23 counties has separate ethics panels for its schools and its government. So does Baltimore City. And on top of that, 83 towns -- including one with a population of 469 -- have unique ethics laws and oversight groups.
They have grown out of a system that emerged in the post-Watergate push for reforms. Typically, they collect disclosure forms from government officials and lobbyists.
They also respond to ethics complaints and concerns. For example, The Sun reported Sunday that 10 Baltimore City Council members have hired relatives as paid assistants and the entire council received gifts, including free parking and movie passes.
Other recent cases illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the system, observers say.
Montgomery County's ethics commission determined that it wasn't proper for Moose to capitalize on his fame and earn money by writing a book about the Beltway sniper shootings, prompting the chief's resignation in June.
To ethics experts, this was a clear-cut case where a local ethics commission acted quickly.
"It was a real gutsy move on their part," Stern said. "They took on a very popular person. That's what ethics commissions are designed to do."
But to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan it was a predicament that could have been avoided, said his spokesman, David Weaver. Duncan pushed for Moose to get a waiver from the ethics laws because of his unique situation.
"His concern from day one was that we might lose the chief," Weaver said. "Duncan did not want a situation where Moose had to decide between the book and the job and that's what we had."
In the case of Busch, questions recently arose as to whether it's a conflict of interest for him to sponsor legislation that benefits the Anne Arundel Department of Recreation and Parks, where he works and has rapidly ascended the pay scale.
Busch has criticized the ethics system that threatens to force him to give up either his state or county post.
Each ethics panel is required to have laws that are "substantially similar" to the state ethics laws, but they may apply them differently. Busch said he has been caught in the middle of those differences.
Anne Arundel law stipulates that employees can't have second jobs where their employer might have an adversarial relationship with the county. On several issues, the state and county have divergent views so he could be forced to give up one of his jobs.
No other county has attempted to enforce such a law. Busch said, "It would be chaos in Annapolis" if the 18 delegates who have second jobs in government were subjected to different rules.
The attorney general's office has issued an opinion supporting Busch's view. The county is deciding whether it agrees.
Another Anne Arundel County case illustrates the obscurity of some ethics panels.