University compiled dossier on Rawlings

Morgan State: The school collected ammunition for its clashes with the powerful lawmaker over money, autonomy.

December 05, 2003|By Alec MacGillis and David Nitkin | Alec MacGillis and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

As Del. Howard P. Rawlings struggled with cancer this year, Morgan State University officials compiled a secret dossier about the influential Baltimore Democrat to use against him in future legislative showdowns.

The research on Rawlings, who died three weeks ago, was intended to aid Morgan State in its long-running battle with the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, say people familiar with the project, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by university officials.

Rawlings was a graduate of the historically black university but had long criticized it for what he viewed as poor management and under-performance. On several occasions, he had blocked Morgan's efforts to gain more autonomy - a push the university plans to renew in the coming legislative session.

Sources familiar with the project say Morgan's general counsel, Julie Goodwin, acting at the direction of President Earl S. Richardson, spent much of the late winter and spring researching Rawlings' career and his dealings with Morgan and then collected the findings into a thick dossier.

The intent was to find information that could buttress Morgan's position in its clashes with Rawlings, the sources said.

They said Goodwin, who earns $99,336 a year, conducted much of the work during regular business hours, often from home.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and member of Morgan's Board of Regents, expressed outrage when told by The Sun of the research, which he said he did not know about. Any use of state funds to pay for research into Rawlings was particularly dismaying, he said, considering that Morgan recently dismissed hundreds of students for lack of financial aid to help them.

"I would be appalled that the university would be spending a dime on such an effort, when we are literally having to let young people go - dismiss them - because we don't have the funds," said Cummings, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "If that happened, I find that totally obnoxious."

Response to criticism

Morgan State officials acknowledged this week that they had been developing an in-depth response to Rawlings' criticisms but denied that it amounted to an investigation.

Richardson declined several requests this week for an interview, agreeing to comment only through a university spokesman. The spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said, "There is no investigation, and there has been no investigation of Delegate Rawlings."

Likewise, Morgan officials deny the existence of a secret dossier.

"There is no document that attempts to summarize any investigation by this university," Coleman said. He said any work done by the university in relation to Rawlings was intended only to compile, in detailed form, Morgan's account of its fraught dealings with the lawmaker and to rebut his criticisms of the school.

Out of respect for Rawlings, Coleman said, the university does not want to go into further detail about his criticisms or its planned response to them.

Goodwin, the general counsel, said yesterday that she could not answer questions about the project because any work she does for the university is covered by attorney-client privilege.

She added, "I can, however, say that to the extent that any of the lines of inquiry suggest that I have acted outside of the scope of my duties, I need to emphasize that that couldn't be further from the truth."

The assistant state attorney general assigned to Morgan State, Mark Davis, said through a spokeswoman that he was aware of Morgan's research into Rawlings, but he declined to discuss it further.

Davis "looked at some of the information early in the process but has no comment," said a spokeswoman, Jamie St. Onge.

Documents reviewed by The Sun show that the research project included sending an intern to Annapolis in March to pull Rawlings' disclosure forms at the state Ethics Commission. Also in March, Morgan requested from the Internal Revenue Service the tax forms of a civil rights organization with which Rawlings was associated, documents show.

The dossier, a small portion of which was obtained by The Sun, included an account of how Rawlings allegedly pressured Morgan in 1992 to purchase a civil rights museum in exchange for getting greater autonomy.

The documents indicate that Morgan's research was being done at the same time that Rawlings' illness - widely known for more than a year - was visibly progressing and causing him to miss hearings in March and April.

Asked about the dossier this week, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Rawlings' daughter and a Baltimore city councilwoman, said her father had known of the project and was upset by it.

"It wasn't concern that they would find anything," she said. "He was appalled that they were looking, that President Richardson believed this was a good use of the institution's money."

Kathryn M. Rowe, an assistant attorney general who provides legal advice to General Assembly members, said Rawlings contacted her in the spring, after he learned of the research.

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