Candidates' past legal troubles emerge in Balto. Co. council race

Democrat and Republican both have record of various charges

October 19, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Both candidates in the Baltimore County Council District 3 race had some confessing to do at a community forum this week, but neither man revealed the full extent of his past troubles with the law.

Democrat Ben Sutley and Republican Todd Huff were asked at the end of a 90-minute forum at The Lodge in Oregon Ridge on Monday night to talk about their own past conduct. The question, submitted by a member of the audience anonymously, reflected that word of Sutley's and Huff's legal troubles has been circulating for months, but neither had been asked openly to talk about it.

Neither man went into detail about the incidents, which in Sutley's case involved driving while intoxicated and drug charges, and in Huff's case a conviction for leaving the scene of an accident, charges of passing a bad check and a handgun violation. No one in the audience or the panel of three questioners followed up, but their answers to the gathering of about 100 people were less than forthcoming.

Huff, 42, of Lutherville, operations manager at the family business, Brooks-Huff Tire & Auto Centers, told the group that "17, 18 years ago" there were episodes he called "flourishes" that were either "not chargeable or dismissed. They have been expunged from my record."

Sutley, 42, of Baldwin, a lawyer and part owner of a health care company, said when he was 19 and again when he was 22 years old, he "was charged with arrestable traffic offenses." Since then, he told the group he's had "20 years of good choices."

Huff, who defeated the four-term incumbent councilman, T. Bryan McIntire, and four other rivals for the Republican nomination, did not mention to the group that in Anne Arundel County in 1996 he pleaded guilty to failure to stop at the scene of an accident that involved injury, a felony under current state law.

Court records show that the accident occurred on Interstate 695 in March 1995, and Huff was sentenced to a year in jail, with 11 months, 26 days suspended. Brenda Shell-Eleazer, warden of Anne Arundel County's Jennifer Road Detention Center, confirmed that Huff served time there, but she said the available records do not show how many days he served.

Huff said in an interview that he recalled serving "a weekend" in jail in connection with the accident, which he said occurred when he was driving a tow truck. Anne Arundel County police were unable to provide their report on the accident.

Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County, said nothing in the county code or charter or Maryland Constitution appears to prevent a person who has been convicted of a felony in a traffic case and served the sentence from serving on the council.

A review of court records appears to support Huff's account that two other cases were "expunged," meaning a judge approved requests to have all case records and references to the cases removed from files and electronic databases of the court system and any other agencies that would have handled the proceedings.

Records of the cases provided to The Baltimore Sun, which were made before the expunge order was granted, show that Huff was found guilty in Baltimore County District Court case of passing a bad check for $500 in 1998, and the case was appealed to the Circuit Court. It was then dropped by the prosecutor in 2000. The prosecutor's decision to drop the case effectively nullified the conviction.

Records show also that Huff was granted probation before judgment — meaning he was not convicted — in 1995 after he was charged with having a handgun in his car. Huff said in an interview that he had been pulled over for speeding, and volunteered to the police officer that he had a handgun. He said he was planning to get a license for the handgun and was transporting it to his home from a bar he owned at the time.

Sutley said in an interview later that he was charged twice with driving under the influence in Baltimore County, but there was no traffic accident and no injury in either case. He said that in the first incident, when he was pulled over in August 1988 on North Charles Street, the police found a small amount of marijuana in the car and he was also charged with drug possession.

The second charge of driving under the influence came on New Year's Eve two years later on Frederick Road in Catonsville, Sutley said. In the first case, Sutley said he was granted probation before judgment and did community service. In the second case, he said was sentenced to about a year on probation.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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