Mayor refuses to offer details about DUI case

Trial in 1987 incident ended in acquittal

October 26, 2006|By Doug Donovan and Andrew A. Green | Doug Donovan and Andrew A. Green,SUN REPORTERS

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley refused yesterday to offer any details about his 1987 drunken-driving charge and acquittal, and said he did not remember if he disclosed the incident on his application to become a lawyer.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. denied that Republicans had anything to do with the 19-year-old incident being revealed two weeks before the Nov. 7 election against O'Malley.

"I'm surprised he didn't claim it was George Bush," Ehrlich said, dismissing the incident as an issue in the race. "That's not any concern to anybody what happened 20 years ago."

The Sun independently obtained a court document Tuesday showing that O'Malley was charged in Montgomery County when he was 24 with driving or attempting to drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. A law student at the time, O'Malley was acquitted of the charge.

O'Malley, a Democrat running against Ehrlich, had never disclosed the charge until he confirmed the 1987 incident in response to questions from The Sun on Tuesday night.

The mayor took questions about the incident yesterday after a union endorsement of his candidacy. During his answers, O'Malley repeated the same response several times: "It was 20 years ago, and I was found not guilty."

"I do respect your right to ask these questions, and I hope you'll understand my unwillingness to fuel distractions and to try to turn what was a not-guilty finding 20 years ago into a guilty finding today," O'Malley said. "A person's character is the product of a lifetime."

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.

"I don't recall what was on the bar application or disclosure," O'Malley said. "I'm quite sure I followed whatever rules were required at the time. And the bar association also does background checks."

O'Malley refused to answer whether he would authorize the release of his bar application. Instead, he said, he was going to focus on talking about important issues in the final 13 days of the campaign, eliciting loud applause and cheers from more than 50 supporters and campaign staff members at the union hall.

Ehrlich released his bar application yesterday, and it showed that he answered "no" to the questions about whether he had been a party to any criminal proceeding or whether there had been any "unfavorable incidents" in his life that would bear on his character or fitness to practice law.

The governor has previously been quoted as saying he had his own brush with the law as a young man when he and a friend scalped tickets to Princeton University sporting events to make extra money during college.

Ehrlich said yesterday that the matter was handled by Princeton University officials, not the police, as he said in an interview four years ago. So the matter did not warrant reporting on his application to the Maryland bar.

Asked if he had learned anything from the 1987 incident, O'Malley said: "I'd like to think I'm smarter today than I was last week or last year. I like to think I get a little wiser with every passing day."

The closest the mayor would get to describing the incident came when he said he was "charged when I was heading home to my parents' house" in Rockville. The court document obtained by The Sun shows that the incident happened at 5 a.m. on a Sunday near East-West Highway and Montgomery Avenue in Bethesda.

After pleading not guilty, court records show that O'Malley went on trial in January 1988 after several postponements. Clerks with the Montgomery County District Court said yesterday that the trial started Jan. 4, 1988, and was continued until Jan. 28. Court records do not clearly indicate his exact acquittal date, but the last entry in a summary of the case is Feb. 1, 1988.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.

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