Alston of Prince George’s asks judge to modify sentence to probation


Prince George's Del. Tiffany Alston (R) held back tears as she and her attorney Raouf Abdullah listened to a question from a reporter outside of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Courthouse on Tuesday, October 09, 2012 in Annapolis, Md. (Mark Gail/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
November 5, 2012

Tiffany Alston, the Prince George’s County delegate suspended from office last month, was still fighting to clear her name and possibly get her job back on Monday, even as state prosecutors accused her of exaggerating her court-ordered community service hours.

Alston returned to court in Annapolis to try to persuade a judge to expunge her conviction on charges related to her use of state funds to pay an employee of her private law firm.

She testified on Monday that she worked around the clock to complete 300 hours of volunteer work in the days since she was sentenced for misconduct in office last month, and asked Judge Paul Harris to modify her one-year suspended jail sentence to probation.

“I’ve never been in trouble before and I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible,” Alston said. “I want to get this over with.”

But Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt accused Alston of fabricating at least some of the hours. He questioned documents Alston provided that indicated she had worked 15-hour days and longer, including on the two days the federal government was shut down last week because of Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re questioning the integrity of the hours,” Davitt said during a hearing that was scheduled for 15 minutes but lasted more than two hours. “We were thrown by the numbers.”

Even Harris sounded skeptical. He scheduled a follow-up hearing for next week.

“I don’t know how it was possible to complete all these hours,” Harris said.

But he also pressed Davitt later in the hearing for evidence to contradict Alston’s testimony.

“She had good reason to work those hours — to get it done, to get rid of the stigma,” he said.

In June, a jury found Alston guilty of theft and misconduct. Last month, Harris ordered her to perform community service and pay restitution. He left open the possibility of changing her sentence to probation once Alston had met her obligation.

At the time of sentencing, Alston was automatically suspended from office. She had hoped to return to the General Assembly after completing her volunteer hours because the Maryland Constitution says that an official is reinstated if a conviction is “reversed or overturned.”

But the General Assembly’s lawyer, Dan Friedman, advised House Speaker Michael E. Busch that her removal was “permanent.” Alston’s conviction became final, Friedman said, when she gave up her right to appeal as part of a separate plea agreement reached with state prosecutors. And Prince George’s County Democrats on Friday named Greg Hall to replace Alston.

Alston’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, suggested that Alston was not giving up.

“She’s going to have to seek some kind of court intervention,” Gordon said.“But we’re not there yet.”

Alston submitted documents to the court on Monday to show that she had volunteered for two Prince George’s nonprofit organizations — one that supports victims of domestic violence and another that works with juvenile delinquents. Alston said she did research, drafted letters and attended meetings.

The executive director of one of the groups testified that employees often work 16-hour days. He could not provide any records to verify Alston’s hours.

During Davitt’s cross-examination of Alston, he revealed for the first time that his investigators had watched Alston at her home, taking her child to the bus stop. He also questioned how Alston could have driven to work when her license was suspended for much of the month of October.

Alston said that she performed some of her work at home and testified that she did not know until Friday that her license had been suspended. She has since paid an outstanding ticket.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. A recovering political junkie, Ann previously covered the State House in Annapolis, state politics in California and the first-in-the-nation presidential primary in New Hampshire. She joined the Post in 2005.
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