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Posted at 12:50 PM ET, 10/09/2012

Pr. George’s Del. Tiffany Alston strikes deal just before trial was to begin


Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George's) during a judiciary committee hearing in March 2011. (Mark Gail - The Washington Post)
Prince George’s Del. Tiffany Alston agreed to a pretrial deal Tuesday that state prosecutors said will lead to her immediate suspension from the Maryland House of Delegates.

Alston (D) was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday morning on charges of using campaign money to pay for some of her wedding expenses. In June, she was found guilty in a separate case of stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her private law firm.

Alston’s future in the General Assembly was unclear Tuesday, with prosecutors saying she must leave the legislature, and Alston saying the issue is not yet decided.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said Maryland’s Constitution requires that the first-term lawmaker must automatically give up her seat once a conviction becomes final at the time of sentencing.

The plea agreement allows Alston to avoid a second trial and wipes out the earlier guilty finding on one count of theft. But Judge Paul Harris gave Alston a suspended sentence of one year in jail on a second count of misconduct in office. Alston must pay $800 in restitution to the General Assembly and complete 300 hours of community service.

If Alston meets her obligation to the court, Harris said he could also clear her of the second finding of guilt.

Leaving the courthouse Tuesday, Alston said that because her case is still under “judicial review” and unprecedented, it will be up to attorneys for the General Assembly to determine whether she can remain in office.

“The mistakes I have made have been accounting mistakes,” Alston said in court, becoming emotional as she asked Harris to reduce her three-year period of supervised probation. “I maintain my innocence. There was no criminal misconduct and no criminal intent.”

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael Busch said the office is consulting with the Attorney General to understand “how the mechanics work.”

Alston had held talks with the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor about a possible plea agreement, but negotiations stalled last month, in part over the issue of whether the first-term lawmaker would have to immediately leave office.

The Prince George’s lawmaker has experienced a series of recent setbacks. Last month, the state’s highest court indefinitely suspended Alston’s law license because of complaints from a client. She was found guilty in June in the theft case.

Even as Harris, the judge in both cases, offered Alston a second chance Tuesday, he was blunt in his assessment of her behavior. He rejected Alston’s assertion that she was the target of a politically motivated prosecution and noted that she “crossed the line into the area of criminal misconduct” even before she was sworn into office.

“It’s a public trust issue and the public needs to know that the law trumps politics,” Harris said. “It just shows an incredible arrogance on your part.”

This item has been updated. An earlier version is this story inaccurately referred to Alston’s office; it has been corrected.

By  |  12:50 PM ET, 10/09/2012

 
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