wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Most Read: Local

Maryland Politics
Posted at 12:31 PM ET, 10/12/2011

Prince George’s county attorney battle may signal end of Baker’s political honeymoon

Looks like Rushern Baker’s political honeymoon in Prince George’s County may be coming to an end.

Baker’s nominee to head the county attorney’s office, a key job that involves giving legal advice to the county, encountered hostile questions from several County Council members at a Wednesday committee session. So far, no council member has said they will back Andree Green’s nomination, and one has said she will oppose it. Baker (D) has been in office nearly one year.

Among the council members’ beefs: Green, a former attorney for the county’s park and planning commission, has aggressively backed the county executive’s legal position in cases where there is a dispute between the executive and the council. Technically, the county attorney’s office represents both branches of government, but they are not always in concert. In Montgomery County, the council has from time to time expressed similar concerns— that the county attorney’s office sometimes favors the executive over the council.

Prince George’s Council member Karen Toles (D-Suitland) said in a lengthy statement during Wednesday’s discussion that Green had “disrespected” the council and council staff, and that she has been dismissive of the council’s perspective. The relationship is apparently so fraught that several council members told Green she needed to work quickly to repair it.

“My honest assessment is that most of my colleagues are really concerned, myself included,” said Council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), who is a lawyer.

Green said she had never intended to act in a disrespectful manner, but that sometimes “in the zealous pursuit of doing what I believe is legally and lawfully correct, I may step on some people’s toes,” she said. “That is something I will be more mindful of in the future.”

There is a complex backstory and it goes something like this: Tensions increased over the summer when Green and her staff took the county executive’s side in a dispute with Reaching Hearts, a Seventh Day Adventist congregation hoping to build a church, gymnasium and school in Laurel. Many residents of the community don’t want it, saying they are worried about traffic and runoff in a nearby drinking water reservoir. But the county had already lost a major legal battle with the church and has been ordered to pay the congregation $3.7 million.

The council was compelled to take up the church’s application for water and sewer rights earlier this year after a court order, but it again rejected the church’s request for those rights, the first key step in winning approval for construction. The federal judge who ruled earlier in the case threatened to hold the council in contempt.

Baker is worried about the possibility of losing another costly verdict; the church has signaled it will continue to battle the county until it gets permission to build.

But the council, led by member Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel), believes its members acted properly in again rejecting the church’s request. Green apparently has not been sympathetic to the council’s legal position, and the council hired an outside lawyer to represent it.

Matters got really heated when the council learned that in the course of researching the case, an attorney in Green’s office began leafing through thousands of council members’ e-mails. This led to a letter of apology from Baker to the council. Green said in an interview earlier this week she did not know much about the e-mail dispute, and in any case couldn’t discuss it because it was linked to a pending lawsuit.

Council members, however, were furious that their e-mails were being examined and said Green’s office had done so without their knowledge or consent. While they did not directly address the dispute during Wednesday’s discussion, several council members hinted at the conflict and said they were worried that when there is a legal dispute between the council and the executive, the county attorney’s office more than likely will side with the executive.

The committee voted 4-0 Wednesday to move Green’s nomination to the full council without a recommendation.

At the beginning of the hearing, Green shed a few tears during her opening remarks and described her family’s commitment to justice and racial equality. After the 45- minute discussion ended, she said she “absolutely” would continue to pursue the nomination. So far only Lehman has said publicly she would oppose Green’s nomination.

By  |  12:31 PM ET, 10/12/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company