Court lifts obstacle in GOP lawsuit

Way is cleared for questioning House chief clerk in bid to void actions of special session

December 29, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejected yesterday the state's attempt to prevent questioning of a key witness in a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to invalidate new tax and spending laws.

The order clears the way for the deposition of House of Delegates Chief Clerk Mary Monahan. Her deposition was scheduled for two days ago in Tampa, Fla., but was halted Wednesday by the appeals court while it considered the objections of the attorney general's office.

"Now we get to find out what the attorney general of Maryland does not want you to know," said attorney Irwin R. Kramer. "I want to get that [deposition] scheduled and done on Monday. So if you're reading this, Attorney General, can you call me back and we can get this show on the road?"

Sandra B. Brantley, an assistant attorney general in the General Assembly counsel's office, said the state has not decided whether to appeal yesterday's ruling to the Court of Appeals.

Kramer wants to ask Monahan about official documents relating to a five-day adjournment by the Senate during November's special session, in which major tax, spending-reduction and gambling bills were passed. The new tax laws - including sales and cigarette tax increases - are scheduled to go into effect next week.

Led by Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County, five Republican lawmakers and a local businessman filed suit this month in Carroll County Circuit Court, claiming that the General Assembly violated a constitutional provision requiring that either legislative chamber formally consent to a break of more than three days by the other.

The lawsuit argues that the Senate failed to get proper approval from the House when it took a break during the special legislative session. Such a procedural failure, the plaintiffs argue, should invalidate all bills that were later passed.

Democrats have called the lawsuit a frivolous attempt by Republicans to undo laws they could not defeat legislatively. The state had tried to prevent Monahan's deposition on the grounds that it would violate the constitutional separation of judicial and legislative powers.

Court hearings on the arguments in Westminster have been postponed until Friday so that Monahan, who has been on vacation, could be found and deposed.

Also yesterday, Kramer asked Carroll Circuit Judge Thomas F. Stansfield to temporarily block the new laws from going into effect until the lawsuit is resolved.

Kramer said he has also officially entered his approval of a request by WBFF-TV's John Rydell that Stansfield allow the hearings to be televised. Brantley said the state has no objections to video cameras in the courtroom.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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