High court hits the pause button on filling seat of ousted Maryland delegate


Md.’s highest court has temporarily put on hold the decision of a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge to give Gov. Martin O’Malley power to choose a replacement for ousted state delegate Tiffany Alston. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
December 6, 2012

Maryland’s highest court has temporarily put on hold the decision of a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge to give Gov. Martin O’Malley power to choose a replacement for ousted state delegate Tiffany Alston — meaning both Alston and the former drug dealer nominated by local Democrats to succeed her still might have a shot at the seat.

The stay granted by the Maryland Court of Appeals does not mean that Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr.’s ruling will be reversed in any way, nor does it mean the state’s highest court will definitely hear arguments in the case. Rather, the stay effectively hits the pause button on the entire legal mess, giving all those involved until Wednesday to answer a request that the Court of Appeals weigh in.

The stay was prompted by Greg Hall, the former drug dealer who was nominated in a 12 to 10 vote by the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee to replace Alston after she was convicted of misconduct and was subsequently ousted from office in October. Hall, who was convicted of a misdemeanor gun charge in the early 1990s stemming from an incident in which a 13-year-old boy was killed, was never installed in the seat because O’Malley delayed appointing him, then asked the committee to withdraw his name.

Hall sued in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, saying O’Malley was bound by law to appoint him, and the committee had no right to ask his name be withdrawn. Nichols ruled against him Wednesday. The committee had been set to withdraw his name and, according to Nichols’s ruling, that would have set the stage for O’Malley to select whomever he wanted.

Terry Speigner, the committee’s chairman, said the group will await further court action before doing anything.

“We’re going to follow what the court tells us, which is put everything on pause until they tell us to unpause,” said Speigner, who ran against Hall to replace Alston but has since vowed not to try to fill the vacancy.

Walter Green, Hall’s attorney who had filed a motion asking for the stay, said he hoped the state’s highest court would eventually reverse Nichols’s ruling.

“We ought to have a final decision from the state’s highest court as to whether that process is legal under the terms of the Maryland Constitution or not,” he said.

Raouf Abdullah, Alston’s attorney, said he hopes the Court of Appeals will also consider whether Alston’s ouster was appropriate. She, too, has sued, claiming that because she was eventually given probation before judgment as part of a plea deal — not a technical “conviction” — she should not have been removed from her position as a legislator.

Nichols had ruled against her, saying her conviction was final because she had waived all her appeal rights, and the probation before judgment was not issued in her case until a month after that.

A spokesman for O’Malley said attorneys would respond by Wednesday, the due date. The court is expected to decide after that whether it will grant Hall’s petition for writ of certiorari and hear arguments in the case.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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