Panel to subpoena 2

Fired workers to testify in Ehrlich personnel inquiry

December 02, 2005|By JENNIFER SKALKA AND ANDREW A. GREEN | JENNIFER SKALKA AND ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTERS

The special committee investigating the Ehrlich administration's personnel practices voted yesterday after a closed-door session to subpoena its first two witnesses to testify at a Dec. 13 meeting.

Though the committee and its attorney declined to identify the state workers, opting instead to refer to them as witnesses "A" and "B," George "Skip" Casey, a former director of human resources at the Maryland Department of Transportation who was fired last fall, is expected to be one of them.

"I know I've received a letter inviting me to appear voluntarily, which I've declined to do," said Casey, 53, a former longtime Republican who said he is now a registered independent. "I'm going to wait to be subpoenaed."

Casey, who is the assistant vice president for human resources at Loyola College in Baltimore, wrote a six-page letter to legislative leaders in February claiming that a "shadow government" operated outside the state personnel system to terminate career professionals and fill their positions with administration loyalists. He declined yesterday to elaborate about the circumstances of his firing, but said he is willing to testify to the specifics and sign a waiver releasing his personnel file to the committee.

Officials familiar with the workings of the committee say Paula M. Carmody, a former attorney in the Office of the People's Counsel, an independent agency that falls in the executive branch, will be issued the second subpoena.

Carmody, 51, who is now an assistant attorney general in the Division of Consumer Protection, declined to comment yesterday. A Democrat, she worked for the Office of the People's Counsel for 15 years before being fired in 2003.

Most Republicans on the special committee objected to issuing the subpoenas, and Ehrlich communications director Paul Schurick said that "the entire exercise is designed to embarrass the administration, to hurt the governor politically."

"This is the most unfair, one-sided, biased legislative exercise I've ever seen," said Schurick, who insisted that all witnesses who testify before the committee also sign waivers releasing their personnel files so that the full stories of the terminations are known.

But Democrats defended the decision and the secrecy, saying the witnesses need to be heard and should be protected from public scrutiny until they testify.

"They would not appear without being subpoenaed," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and co-chairman of the committee, referring to one of the witnesses.

The reason for keeping the names secret - a provision written into the committee's rules - is to prevent the witnesses from being targets of smear campaigns or intimidation before they testify, Middleton said. The Dec. 13 meeting is open to the public, and the identities of the witnesses will be revealed at that time or earlier if they consent, he said.

Ward B. Coe III, the special committee's attorney, said it is possible that the committee will vote at its next meeting to subpoena additional witnesses. Coe also said the committee might also hear from witnesses testifying voluntarily.

The special committee is investigating whether aides to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. fired state workers from their jobs because of political beliefs. There are about 7,000 government employees who serve at the discretion of the governor and can be terminated without reason, out of a total state work force of about 86,000.

The idea for the committee gained currency among legislators in February amid reports that former Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr., who was fired for spreading rumors about Mayor Martin O'Malley, was sent to various state agencies to target workers for termination. Steffen was director of communications at the Maryland Insurance Administration when he was fired.

Steffen was not expected to be included in the first round of subpoenas.

Over the past several months, the committee's work has sputtered, with members sitting for lengthy sessions about the history of the state's hiring practices and other matters.

But the prospect of witnesses testifying to their experiences turns up the heat on the administration. Executive branch officials have offered to cooperate with the investigation, while also chiding committee members for their partisanship.

"For nine frigging months they've been talking about all these bodies," Schurick said. "They haven't produced one body."

The committee held a closed session yesterday to discuss subpoenaing the two witnesses. A lawyer from the governor's Office of Legal Counsel, Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas, waited in the hallway outside the Annapolis hearing room for more than an hour.

The committee reconvened in public to vote. In both cases, the committee voted 9-3 in favor of granting the subpoenas, with one Republican, Del. Jean B. Cryor of Montgomery County, siding with the eight Democrats. She said the process was flawed, but after months of waiting, she wanted the committee to finally begin interviewing witnesses.

Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the minority leader from the Eastern Shore who has been the administration's voice on the committee, said he believes issuing subpoenas conveys the sense that laws have been broken, which he believes hasn't happened.

jennifer.skalka@baltsun.com andy.green@baltsun.com

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