O'Malley charged, acquitted in 1987 drunken-driving case

October 25, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was charged almost two decades ago with drunken driving in Montgomery County and found not guilty of the misdemeanor charge, according to court records obtained yesterday by The Sun.

A summary of the case independently located through the District Court of Maryland shows that O'Malley, then 24 and a law student, was charged with driving or attempting to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.

O'Malley, a Democrat running against Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in this fall's election, had never publicly disclosed the charge until he confirmed the 1987 incident last night.

"About 20 years ago, when I was a student, I was found not guilty after being pulled over for DUI on the way back to my parents' house," the mayor said in a prepared statement e-mailed by his campaign. He declined to answer any questions about the case.

His campaign officials lashed out at the Ehrlich campaign, asserting that the disclosure of the 19-year-old incident was part of an orchestrated effort by Republicans.

"We're not surprised that after four years of total failure, two weeks before an election and one day before Joe Steffen goes to court for dirty tricks, Bob Ehrlich is peddling a 20-year-old not-guilty charge," O'Malley communications director Steve Kearney said in a statement, referring to a former gubernatorial aide fired for spreading rumors about O'Malley's personal life.

"This is the sort of last-minute sleaze he has pulled in every election he's ever run," Kearney added, noting a variety of past Ehrlich political opponents. "Gerry Brewster, Connie DeJulius, the Steelworkers Union, the NAACP and Tom Chamberlain's family can all tell you how low Bob Ehrlich will go."

Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver declined to comment last night.

A summary of the case was obtained yesterday from state District Court in Annapolis, which maintains older records.

On Monday, aides to O'Malley denied knowledge of the rumored drunken-driving charge, with one challenging The Sun to produce documentation.

The Maryland Bar, which governs attorneys in the state, requires that all lawyers disclose their prior criminal proceedings, "including traffic citations, arrests and summonses." There is an exception for those whose criminal records have been expunged.

O'Malley's staff declined last night to discuss the mayor's bar application, and those records are considered confidential.

The incident happened at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning near East-West Highway and Montgomery Avenue in Bethesda, according to court documents. The car involved was a 1982 Chevrolet.

At the time, the crime - the lesser of two types of drunken-driving charges - carried a maximum penalty of two months in jail and a $500 fine.

After pleading not guilty, court records show that O'Malley went on trial in January 1988 after several postponements. Court records do not clearly indicate his exact acquittal date, but the last entry in a summary of the case is Feb. 1, 1988.

During the trial, the judge granted a motion to throw out evidence in the case, court papers show.

Reached at home last night, Stanley Klavan, who was the trial judge listed in court records, said he did not recall O'Malley's case.

At the time of the incident, O'Malley attended the University of Maryland School of Law. He had moved to Baltimore and was living on Mount Vernon Place. Court records show O'Malley still listed his address at the time as Infield Court in Rockville, the home of his parents.

Even a conviction for drunken driving is not unique in the background of a politician. When he was 30, President Bush pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. Shortly before his 2000 election, he said he never publicly revealed his arrest, which he blamed on his "irresponsible youth," to avoid setting a poor example for his daughters.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in his early 20s, was convicted of drunken driving twice during an eight-month period in the early 1960s in his home state of Wyoming.

According to an October 2002 Washington Post article, Ehrlich acknowledged that he had scalped sports tickets for profit while he attended Princeton University until a police sting operation ended the illegal practice. A university proctor, according to the article, intervened on behalf of Ehrlich, who was never convicted of a crime.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Laura Vozzella and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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