Maryland’s highest court confirmed Friday that ousted state delegate Tiffany Alston will not get her position back and gave Gov. Martin O’Malley broad power to fill the vacancy.
In a one-paragraph order, the Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier ruling by Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. that gave O’Malley (D) power to choose who represents the 24th District in the General Assembly. An opinion explaining the order is expected in the coming months.
Raquel Guillory, an O’Malley spokeswoman, said the governor was “pleased with the decision.”
“Now the issue is settled, and we can move forward with ensuring the citizens of Prince George’s County have representation,” she said.
Although the legal wrangling may be over, the political jockeying is just beginning. The Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee still must formally withdraw its nomination of Greg Hall, the former drug dealer it named to replace Alston. O’Malley stalled and did not finalize Hall’s appointment.
If and when the committee does so, O’Malley alone can appoint an Alston replacement. Guillory said he “will certainly take into account their consideration” — but, she said, “It is the governor’s decision.”
Attorneys for Alston and Hall criticized the order, with Alston’s saying it would erode the sanctity of plea bargaining across the state and Hall’s saying it could strip Prince George’s residents of the ability to choose their own representative.
Hall said the decision was “not justice” and put power in the hands of people unfamiliar with local concerns. “I know the parks and what’s going on in the streets with these people,” Hall said. “If the governor has a problem with that, I challenge him to come down and debate me on the issues that’s going on in my district.”
The Court of Appeals decision follows Nichols’s ruling that Alston was appropriately removed from her seat in October after she was convicted of misconduct in office — a conviction that technically vanished a month later when she paid a fine, completed community service and received probation before judgment.
Irwin Kramer, Alston’s attorney, said he was “very concerned about what this means for the future of probations before judgment.”
He said that although Alston’s legal options might be exhausted, her political ones were not. “There is a higher authority, but that’s two years away, and it’s called running for election. And she certainly is eligible to do that,” he said.
Attorneys had made their final arguments about filling the seat to the Court of Appeals on Friday.
The judges could have ruled that Alston was improperly ousted after her October conviction. They also could have found that Hall deserved the spot because the law bound the governor to rubber-stamp Hall’s appointment by the Prince George’s Democrats.
Walter Green, Hall’s attorney, said he hopes that when the county’s Democratic Central Committee votes on whether to withdraw Hall’s name, members do so publicly and after seeking input from Prince George’s residents.
“What’s gotten lost here is that the people of Prince George’s County, if the committee votes to rescind Greg’s name, their voice is lost,” Green said. “Their own elected representatives are saying, ‘We voted for Greg in a contested election . . . and now we’re going to take away our own voice and let the governor do what the governor’s going to do.’ ”
The judges, dressed in their ceremonial red robes, asked skeptical questions of attorneys for Alston, Hall and O’Malley during nearly two hours of arguments in the Annapolis courthouse Friday.
The judges sometimes posited outlandish hypothetical scenarios as they sought to understand the broad implications of their ruling.
They had to wade through several issues. First was whether Alston’s conviction was “final” — and therefore correctly resulted in her removal from office — or whether the result of her plea agreement undermined its finality. From there, the judges had to consider Hall.
The Prince George’s Democratic Central Committee had picked Hall to replace Alston. It was a controversial selection because Hall has admitted to being a former crack dealer, and he was convicted of a misdemeanor weapons charge for his role in an early 1990s gun battle that killed a 13-year-old boy.
O’Malley stalled in approving the appointment and eventually asked the committee to withdraw its nomination.
Green argued Friday that the committee had no right to take Hall’s nomination back and that state law required O’Malley to approve it within 15 days of receiving it.
The governor’s attorneys argued that Hall’s legal action stopped his name from being withdrawn more expeditiously and that the 15-day deadline was a suggestion, not a mandate.