Witness deposed in GOP suit against Md.

January 03, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

Republican lawmakers questioned a key witness yesterday in their lawsuit to overturn tax increases that took effect this week, but Democrats claim her testimony was irrelevant and, if anything, bolstered their defense.

Irwin R. Kramer, attorney for five GOP lawmakers suing the state, said his four-hour interrogation of Mary Monahan, the House of Delegates' chief clerk, has produced persuasive evidence that Democratic leaders tried to conceal a constitutional infraction during November's special session by falsifying official records.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office countered that Kramer's "pointless, useless and grueling" deposition did not reveal any wrongdoing by anyone and proved only that the lawsuit was frivolous and without merit.

Led by Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County, the Republican plaintiffs argue that when the Senate took a five-day break during November's special legislative session while waiting for the House to finish its work, it failed to get proper approval from the House, thereby invalidating all the bills that were later passed, including $1.3 billion in tax increases.

The Maryland Constitution requires that either chamber of the legislature get approval from the other before adjourning for more than three days.

Part of the dispute centers on what the constitutional framers meant by "consent." The General Assembly's rules do not define it, and the language in the state Constitution is unclear.

The attorney general's office fought Monahan's deposition, arguing that it violates legislative privilege and threatens the constitutional separation of powers. The state's highest court declined this week to stop her testimony.

According to those present, Monahan's deposition focused on the authenticity of a letter in the official House records purporting to be from Senate clerk William B.C. Addison Jr.

Dated Nov. 9 and printed on Senate stationery, the letter asks House members for permission to adjourn until Nov. 15.

The purpose of the letter was to "memorialize" in official records the constitutionally mandated consent for adjournment, which was actually made orally by Senate and House leaders on Nov. 12, state officials said.

According to Kramer and an assistant attorney general present in the deposition, Monahan testified yesterday that on Nov. 12 she asked another clerk in her office to create the letter.

Democratic leaders declined to identify the other clerk, but Kramer said it was Assistant Chief Clerk Colleen A. Cassidy.

The assistant clerk decided on her own to date the message three days earlier, because that was when the Senate was last in session, said Assistant Attorney General Bonnie A. Kirkland.

Kirkland also said that Addison had given permission for the House clerks to draft the letter on his behalf.

Kirkland said the message was not backdated at the behest of or with the knowledge of House Speaker Michael E. Busch's office.

A preliminary transcript of the deposition was expected to be completed by today.

Tomorrow in Westminster, Carroll County Circuit Judge Thomas F. Stansfield is scheduled to resume arguments in the case.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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