Subpoenas to Be Issued in Md. Firing Probe
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Frustrated by the Ehrlich administration's refusal to turn over key personnel information, a legislative committee investigating the governor's hiring and firing practices authorized its special counsel yesterday to subpoena documents and to take the administration to court if it refuses to give them up.
The administration has handed over thousands of pages of documents, but missing are e-mails and other papers that might show the extent to which Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. considered politics in his personnel decisions, said House Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the special committee's co-chairman.
"We would be finished with this if they would give us the documents," Jones said yesterday after a four-hour hearing.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the administration has been highly cooperative in turning over documents, except those protected by "executive privilege." He would not say what documents those include.
"The administration has stated for 11 straight months its willingness to work together with the committee in a fair and nonpolitical way," Fawell said.
The documents sought include lists of state employees and show their political affiliations, including whether they supported Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrat whom Ehrlich defeated in the 2002 governor's race.
According to a source familiar with the subpoenas, the requests include 90 e-mails written by former Ehrlich aide Joseph Steffen. The administration also withheld those e-mails from public information requests by the media.
Steffen, who was fired last year for spreading rumors about one of Ehrlich's political rivals, has said he was dispatched to several agencies to identify employees who could be replaced by Ehrlich appointees. The 12-member legislative panel was formed in June to review whether these dismissals of at-will employees, who serve at the pleasure of the governor, were handled properly.
Republicans characterize the investigation as a partisan witch hunt by the Democrat-controlled legislature that will find nothing more than the usual turnover that takes place with a new administration.
The committee gave special counsel Ward B. Coe III authority to issue the subpoenas and authorized the state attorney general's office to enforce Coe's subpoenas with court action, if necessary. That would allow a judge to decide whether the administration has legal grounds to withhold the documents, Coe said.
"Hopefully, it won't come to that. Hopefully, they'll just give us the documents," he added.
Coe was also given authority to subpoena six more witnesses for a hearing set for Jan. 30.