Former GOP aide Steffen seeks to quash subpoena

Investigative committee in Annapolis wants testimony about his work for the governor


Former Republican aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr., the so-called "Prince of Darkness" who gained notoriety for his role in the firing of state employees perceived as disloyal to the governor, filed a motion in Harford County Circuit Court yesterday to quash a subpoena calling him to testify about his work for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Steffen was scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Annapolis before the special committee investigating whether state workers were fired for being Democrats, according to court documents filed by his attorney. But the attorney, George S. Robinson IV, contended in his filing that committee does not have subpoena power, rendering the subpoena "invalid."

Robinson, who could not be reached for comment, requested an expedited court hearing today in Harford, where Steffen resides and is working on a local Republican campaign. It was unknown last night whether that hearing has been granted.

Steffen did not return a call for comment.

The state attorney general's office has ruled that the special committee is permitted to issue subpoenas for documents and for people to testify.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and member of the committee, said Steffen would be in contempt if a court does not overturn the subpoena and he fails to show for the hearing.

"It's a lot of bobbing and weaving, and I think it's being orchestrated," Frosh said. "And I think it's being orchestrated by the Republican Party, and I think ultimately Mr. Steffen will end up testifying before the special committee."

The committee started meeting a year ago to examine Ehrlich's personnel practices. Members of the bipartisan group have heard hours of testimony from former state workers, administration officials and former Ehrlich operatives. Ehrlich officials have called the effort an election-year smear campaign aimed at the governor's re-election campaign.

For months, calls to Steffen's cell phone from the committee's counsel, Ward B. Coe III, were not returned. But when Steffen surfaced to work for Aaron Kazi, a candidate for Harford County Council president, he told reporters that he would be willing to testify before the special committee.

Administration e-mails show that Steffen reported to top government officials as he went to various state departments and compiled lists of workers to be fired.

"I think he's the star witness, really," said state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat and committee co-chairman. "It's sort of like all the roads lead to Rome. All of these connections seem to connect to Joe Steffen."

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