Lawsuit Is Over A Matter Of Urgency

THE TALK

August 14, 2009|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

Ralph Jaffe wants to dethrone Gov. Martin O'Malley. And before a news conference outside O'Malley's downtown Baltimore office last month, Jaffe also wanted to use the gubernatorial throne.

Security at the William Donald Schaefer state office building turned him away, suggesting that he use the bathroom at a nearby McDonald's instead.

Jaffe, a 67-year-old retired teacher from Pikesville who is challenging O'Malley in the Democratic primary, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit over the matter this week. He is seeking $120,000 in damages.

"That building is a state, public, government building," he said. "It belongs to the taxpayers and the voters. For them to say the citizens can't use the bathroom is a violation, in my opinion, of that [civil rights] statute."

Jaffe, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, was referring to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination in public accommodations.

Even in the Land of the Free, there is such a thing as a private government commode, said Phillip Closius, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. John Q. Public, out for a stroll in Annapolis, can't expect to use the john in the governor's mansion.

"The CIA building in Langley is also government property," Closius said. "Try to use the bathroom and see what happens."

The state office building where Jaffe appeared, at 6. St. Paul Place, has no restrooms in the lobby area, only on the upper floors. Access to those is limited to state employees and to people who have business with the agencies housed there, said state General Services spokesman Dave Humphrey.

There's a religious angle to Jaffe's suit. The aspiring governor is Jewish, and he claims that made a McDonald's pit stop particularly unappetizing. Jewish law does not forbid relieving oneself at a nonkosher restaurant, he acknowledged, but he said he has an image to protect.

"For me to have to go to a McDonald's, which is a nonkosher restaurant, is extremely uncomfortable for me because it's going to give people the impression that I'm going over there to order a hamburger," he said.

Connect the dots

Constellation Energy appoints Claire Buchan as vice president for public strategy, and wouldn't you know it: some wiseguy sends me a photo from her last gig. (She was chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce under President George W. Bush.) There's Buchan, sitting and smiling beside strategist supreme Karl Rove, who is making bunny ears behind her head. Who knew Rove was such a cut-up? ... Monday I got picked for jury duty for the first time in my life. During jury selection, Circuit Judge Marcus Z. Shar asked about 40 prospective jurors to stand up if they or their immediate relatives had ever been charged with or been victims of a crime. About 20 stood. "Welcome to Baltimore," Shar said.

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