A Prince George’s County judge said Monday the court should conduct a full judicial review of the controversy surrounding the nomination of businessman Gregory A. Hall to replace Tiffany Alston in the House of Delegates.
Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols Jr. in a ruling late Monday said all sides in the dispute need more time to debate the issues, just hours before Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) was required to approve the nomination. Nichols’s decision allows the clock to continue to tick on the nomination and relieves O’Malley of the requirement to approve it, at least for now.
The ruling came shortly before the county’s Democratic Central Committee, in a voice vote, said it wants to rescind Hall’s nomination. For now, the vote is non-binding because Nichols said the panel could only survey members’ sentiment, not take any formal action, until the myriad legal issues in the case are reviewed at a hearing tentatively scheduled for Dec. 4.
O’Malley had asked the 24-member panel to revoke its nomination after questions arose about Hall’s past. That set off a legal challenge from Hall, which landed in Nichols’s courtroom Monday.
Nichols also said that the lawyers may consider moving the case out of Prince George’s and into another jurisdiction to avoid any suggestion that local politics might play a role in the court’s eventual decision.
State law gave the governor little wiggle room, saying he “shall” approve the choice of the local committee, but O’Malley had balked.
Two decades ago, Hall was a drug dealer who took part in a shootout that killed a teen in Capitol Heights. Hall did not fire the fatal shot, according to police, and he was convicted of a misdemeanor gun charge. He has since turned his life around, according to friends and colleagues, and recently worked as an aide to County Council member William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville).
Hall discussed his past during a public interview when the committee considered his candidacy on Nov. 2, and had won the backing of several senators in the Prince George’s state delegation.
Hall, 42, was selected in a 12 to 10 vote to fill the seat previously held by Alston (D-Prince George’s), after she was removed from office. The loser in that contest was Democratic Central Committee chairman Terry Speigner, who since has been working with O’Malley to try to line up votes to rescind Hall’s nomination.
Alston, who was convicted in June on charges of stealing $800 from the General Assembly, claims her seat is not vacant. In a lawsuit filed Monday, Alston said she should have been able to claim her seat when an Anne Arundel County judge this month modified her sentence to probation before judgment, essentially wiping out the finding of guilty. Nichols agreed to hear her case along with Hall’s.
Earlier, O’Malley had written to the committee asking its 24 members to withdraw Hall’s name pending review by the attorney general of the Alston vacancy. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler quickly reiterated a finding by an assistant attorney general that the seat was vacant and that Alston could not be reinstated.
After Gansler weighed in, the Democratic committee last week decided to let Hall’s nomination stand, putting the issue back in O’Malley’s lap. The governor, who is eyeing a 2016 presidential bid, remained unwilling to appoint Hall, according to a spokeswoman, who did not offer a reason.
In recent days, O’Malley began to try to round up the votes to rescind Hall’s nomination, several sources said.
Hall said he was disappointed by the committee’s action Monday night.
“The governor must not believe in redemption,” Hall said. “That’s a problem he has to deal with.”