State resists firing ruling

Md. to ask judge to reconsider order reinstating worker in real estate office

October 09, 2007|By James Drew | James Drew,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland attorney general's office plans to ask a Baltimore County judge today to reconsider his ruling that a longtime state employee, who was fired a day after he was quoted in The Sun discussing a Queen Anne's County land deal, should be "restored to his employment position with all its rights and privileges."

Nelson E. Reichart, who had served as the Department of General Services' assistant secretary for real estate, was fired by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration in June. His attorney, Kathleen J. Masterton, said the judge's order means Reichart's dismissal is wiped out.

"It is our position that he is to be restored to the payroll ... with full back pay and benefits," said Masterton.

Will Brockman, an assistant attorney general, said yesterday the state would ask Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh to reconsider his order.

The judge signed an order Sept. 26 approving Reichart's motion to be reinstated pending the outcome of his lawsuit against the state. Reichert had filed suit Aug. 29.

Brockman said General Services would contact Reichart, whose job was filled by Michael Gaines, about his reinstatement to the state payroll. A department spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

In his motion to be reinstated, Reichart said that if the judge approved the order, it would allow him to use many weeks of earned leave as he pursues his legal claims against the state. Reichart has alleged that the state agency fired him as part of a purge of white Republicans in the department in favor of black Democrats.

Reichart was fired June 29, a day after he was quoted in The Sun discussing two appraisals for a 271-acre tract in Queen Anne's County that the state was purchasing through Program Open Space. One appraisal valued the land at $3.6 million and the other at $4.6 million. The state and Queen Anne's County together paid $5 million for it, a price that was questioned by the state comptroller.

Reichart said that in such a situation, the state often would pay the average of the two appraisals, which in this case would have been $4.1 million.

Reichart had "substantial knowledge" about the land purchase because the "state once considered buying the farm outright," according to Reichart's lawsuit.

"All of his statements were factual, and accurate," the lawsuit says of Reichart's comments to The Sun.

Reichart's lawsuit alleges that he was fired in part "in retaliation for ... authorized, true statements to the press which were misused by others to portray Governor O'Malley and other Democrats in a bad light."

Critics have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest involving the O'Malley administration and the owner of the land.

Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin worked as a consultant on part of the deal, which had been in the works for two years, before he joined the O'Malley administration this year. He has said that an attorney with the state Ethics Commission advised him that his previous work did not pose a conflict.

David Sutherland, the president of U.S. Land Alliance, the for-profit company that owned the land, served on O'Malley's transition team and was one of 30 people on an environmental steering committee within that group. O'Malley staffers have said that the governor had never met Sutherland.

A Department of General Services spokesman has said Reichart's remarks to The Sun had no role in his dismissal, saying that Secretary Alvin C. Collins had told Reichart that he wanted a new direction in the office of real estate. A 29-year state employee, Reichart was a year away from qualifying for retirement with full benefits, Masterton said.

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