The state acted illegally and put the credibility of the November election in jeopardy by suspending Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone, her attorneys argued in Circuit Court yesterday.
But the state, countering her request for an injunction, said that despite a 1998 law making it difficult to remove the elections chief, the post is still subject to other normal personnel procedures, such as suspending an employee with pay while charges against her are investigated.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun incorrectly described the appointment of Gilles W. Burger to the Maryland Board of Elections. He was appointed to the board in 2000 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. He became chairman in 2003, after the election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. put Republicans in charge of the board.
The Sun regrets the error.
The law was an attempt to insulate the election administrator from partisan politics. It dictated that an administrator could only be removed by four votes on the five-member election board, and then only for "incompetence, misconduct or other good cause."
Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth said he would rule Monday morning. In the meantime, Lamone will keep her job under a temporary restraining order Silkworth granted Tuesday.
Although Silkworth said he needed time to contemplate his ruling, he expressed skepticism about the case presented by the assistant attorneys general representing the election board.
In particular, he questioned the state's assertion that the board was acting in the public interest in suspending Lamone two months before the presidential election, suggesting the action could taint the results with partisanship.
"How is it in the public interest to have the election be in turmoil?" Silkworth asked.
Yesterday's hearing dealt with a narrow question of law - whether the state Board of Elections has the power to suspend Lamone. But in her testimony, Lamone revealed part of the political back story of the board's attempt to remove her from office and reacted to the publication of some of the previously secret charges against her.
She said she initially had a good working relationship with Gilles Burger, the board's chairman, who has played a key role in the attempt to oust her. But the relationship soured after a critical report about the security of the state's new electronic voting machines received attention in the press, she said.
"He had a meeting with the governor's staff and came back and reported they were uneasy with me, and within a week we were not on speaking terms," Lamone said.
Burger, a Republican, was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has not commented on the attempt to remove Lamone but had previously indicated he wanted to replace her. Lamone was appointed by his predecessor, Democrat Parris N. Glendening.
Ehrlich's appointments secretary, Lawrence J. Hogan, said yesterday in a letter to several state senators that the governor is committed to having a nonpartisan administrator and is not involved in the board's actions. "Neither the governor nor any member of his staff has ever pressured any board member to take any actions whatsoever with respect to Ms. Lamone," Hogan wrote.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the charges against Lamone, which are to be considered in an administrative law hearing next month, include accusations that she ignored problems with the state's electronic voting system reported by local election boards and worked poorly with the state board.
Testifying about the leak of confidential charges, Lamone said: "I feel I've been found guilty before I've had an opportunity to defend myself."