Schisler lawyers got GOP money

Party says $20,000 didn't go toward PSC chief's lawsuit


The state Republican Party paid $20,000 last month to the law firm handling Public Service Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler's lawsuit to keep his job, state campaign finance records released this week show.

The party, using a federal campaign account, made the payment to the Baltimore firm of Adelberg Rudow Dorf & Hendler LLC on July 14.

Two weeks earlier, Andrew Radding, a partner in the firm, filed a lawsuit on Schisler's behalf in Baltimore City Circuit Court, arguing that an act of the General Assembly firing Schisler and the other four commissioners was unconstitutional.

Maryland GOP spokeswoman Audra Miller said the money was not used to pay for Schisler's lawsuit but would not explain what the payment covered.

"It was not for that [lawsuit]," she said. "Anything The Sun writes suggesting it is would be wrong, and we would immediately demand a retraction and a correction."

But absent another explanation, Democrats said the timing is suspicious.

"It's outrageous that this would take place," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch. "It lends credence to the notion that Mr. Schisler was a partisan-motivated individual, not an individual motivated by serving the public."

Schisler came under heavy criticism this spring in the weeks after BGE announced that its electric rates would increase 72 percent when rate camps instituted as part of Maryland's 1999 energy deregulation plan expired on July 1.

For months, BGE rates were the dominant topic in state politics, and Schisler became a symbol for politicians, activists and others of what they saw as an administration that put the interests of utilities above those of consumers.

Critics - mostly Democrats but also some Republicans - said their accusations were supported by revelations that Schisler, a former Republican delegate from the Eastern Shore, had coordinated efforts with a utility lobbyist to adopt regulations favorable to the industry. E-mails collected as part of a lawsuit by longtime PSC employees fighting their terminations by Schisler also showed that industry officials had arranged social events for him, including a hunting trip in Texas.

Carol Hirschburg, a Republican strategist from Owings Mills, said that if the state GOP had paid for Schisler's lawsuit, most party members would support it.

"I would applaud that decision," Hirschburg said. "I don't know why the legislature in this case is allowed to be defended by the state, and Ken Schisler, who is a state employee, isn't."

But leading Democratic lawmakers have said the PSC - as a quasi-judicial body - must remain as nonpolitical as possible.

The General Assembly passed a bill during the spring legislative session firing Schisler and the other commissioners and replacing them with a panel to be selected by the General Assembly.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the bill. While waiting to see if the legislature would override the governor, Schisler filed a lawsuit in his native Talbot County challenging the constitutionality of the law. In that case, he used commission funds to hire his former law firm - Cowdrey, Thompson and Karsten of Easton - to argue his case. The legislative session ended without an override attempt, and the suit became effectively moot.

When lawmakers reconvened this summer for a special session to pass legislation easing the rate increase, they again adopted a plan to fire the commission and replace it with selections from a list of choices prepared by the legislature. But this time, they included provisions requiring that a challenge to the law be filed in Baltimore City and not be paid for with state funds.

Schisler would not answer questions yesterday about the payment from the state party. He would say only, "You can talk to Mr. Radding about my case."

Radding declined to answer questions about the payment. "We don't comment on those matters," he said.

Paul Schurick, the communications director for Ehrlich, who appointed Schisler and has backed his lawsuit, said he was unaware of the payment.

The account the party used to pay the law firm gained attention earlier this week when campaign finance reports showed that it is being used to pay for staff, postage, printing and other expenses for Ehrlich's re-election bid.

The party raised more than $1 million for the account in May and June, around the time the party held a fundraiser featuring President Bush.

Schisler's suit claims the law firing the commissioners "is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt by the General Assembly to circumvent the express provisions of the Maryland Constitution, which only permits the removal of the incumbent commissioners for cause by the governor."

If the law is upheld, the suit says, "no civil officer will be safe from the political whims of the General Assembly."

The attorney general's office is defending the state in the suit, as it does whenever the constitutionality of a law is challenged.

A Baltimore circuit judge upheld the law in late June, and Schisler appealed the next day. A week later, the Court of Appeals entered an injunction preventing parts of the law disbanding the PSC from going into effect until it rendered a full decision. The court has not yet done so, and Schisler and the other commissioners remain on the job.

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