Elections employees allege harassment

Board member's husband barred from staff contact

July 05, 2006|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

A veteran attorney who is the spouse of a Howard County elections board member is under court order to stay away from two female board employees who accused him of repeatedly harassing and frightening them at work - a charge he denies.

Disputes with William H. Morstein, the 61-year-old husband of three-year board member Brenda L. Morstein, have generated letters to county and state election officials, police reports, a judicial protective order and tension among the three county board members.

The dispute appears to stem from a disagreement about where William Morstein should sit during a closed board meeting after office hours June 13.

Kimberly Phillips said in court papers that William Morstein was "belligerent," and "loud" during a visit to the board offices June 26, "charged" at her and told her "to go outside with him to fight."

Another board worker, Gwendolyn Carol Hart, wrote to the judge that Morstein "has created a fear of an unsafe workplace by his entering my work area freely, and hostile behavior." She also wrote, "This man is a time bomb."

Morstein said last week that he might have been sarcastic but never raised his voice or was threatening. He said he would not go to the board's offices again.

A District Court hearing is scheduled today in Ellicott City on whether temporary protective orders issued against Morstein by Administrative Judge JoAnn Ellinghaus-Jones should be made permanent.

In addition, Brenda Morstein's complaints about the way the board chose a new private attorney caused the board to withdraw the job offer after Michael S. Molinaro of Reese and Carney made two appearances as the board's lawyer in April and May; the job was re-advertised last week.

The post was advertised for one week in local newspapers, but not in the Daily Record, which many lawyers read, Brenda Morstein said. She also complained that interviews with the three applicants were scheduled at times inconvenient for her to attend.

Mary C. Reese, the board's former attorney, was appointed to a District Court judgeship in March by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who also appointed Brenda Morstein.

According to a letter from Betty L. Nordaas, the board administrator, to board Chairman Guy L. Harriman, the conflict with William Morstein began at the June 13 board meeting and recurred June 16. She called police but did not seek a court order.

All agree that the Morsteins arrived for a board meeting June 13 and that William Morstein was asked to wait outside during an executive session.

Because of concerns about electronic voting and voter fraud, Nordaas said, she has placed "strong emphasis on security policies and procedures," which she said William Morstein violated.

Nordaas said Morstein entered secure areas of the office where he could not be seen and later sat at the front desk. He also was in areas where he had access to confidential voter records, she said.

When she brought that up at the board meeting, Brenda Morstein objected, saying the office should be a "friendly" place.

The couple came to another meeting June 16, and this time William Morstein was angry and loud, Nordaas said, offering to pay a penny for a label mistakenly printed when he had touched a labeling machine. She felt "threatened" and stayed in her office, she said, until Morstein moved to the outer lobby.

On the evening of June 26, the board voted to reject a $16 bill for legal services that William Morstein submitted for researching a board budget question for his wife, and other members criticized Brenda Morstein for complaining to state elections officials about Nordaas without coming to the full three-member board.

The Morsteins said they were concerned that too much money was being spent on lawyer fees and that the $16 bill was intended sarcastically. "It was just a joke to see where the check would go," she said.

William Morstein said the board was spending more than $73,000 for professional services, but Guy Mickley, the deputy board administrator, said Friday the board spent $17,000 from that budget category for lawyer fees in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Brenda Morstein said she did not understand how to read the board's budget. If the board had agreed to pay the facetious $16 bill, it would have helped her to track board expenditures, she said.

William Morstein said he felt he was badly treated at the board offices but that he never raised his voice, threatened anyone or tried to provoke a fight with Kimberly Phillips.

"I did, in fact, make a statement [Phillips] didn't disagree with to discuss it outside. I'd be glad to do that," he said, claiming he was not loud or offensive. "I didn't use fighting words," he said.

"There was no yelling or screaming. It just didn't take place. Those people didn't appear intimidated in any way," he said. "I guess I tend to be sarcastic."

His wife said she is disturbed at how her husband was treated.

"I've been at the Board of Elections as an election judge and a citizen, and I was always accorded the same treatment. All of a sudden, we've become security risks," she said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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