Miller Ordered to Appear in Court Over Accusation That He Hit Man

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

Was it a "love tap," as one witness described it? Or did Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller walk up to a Prince George's County developer and punch him in the jaw Wednesday?

Miller (D-Calvert) might have to address those questions Nov. 2 in District Court in Upper Marlboro. The only thing that was clear yesterday was that Miller made contact with Leo Bruso, president of Land & Commercial Inc., as he left a County Council hearing in Upper Marlboro.

Bruso said the contact was an unprovoked, full-throttle, right-handed swing against his jaw.

Miller, through his attorney, said, he "was being playful, greeting people on his way out" of the council chamber.

"This is much ado about nothing," said William Brennan, Miller's attorney. "Senator Miller adamantly denies any wrongful conduct of any kind whatsoever."

Miller was served a summons yesterday for the District Court appearance. A pretrial hearing is set for Oct. 6. Even though Miller has not gone to court, yesterday he offered a number of witnesses in his defense.

Yates Clagett, a farmer from Baden attending the land-use hearing, was one of them. "Miller came up to Leo and greeted him, grabbed his arm, then he reached up and gave a love touch on Leo's cheek," Clagett said. "It was a 'Hey, buddy, how you doing?' a love tap."

Clagett said that he saw Bruso hit Miller in the jaw and that Miller, not Bruso, should have filed assault charges. "Mr. Bruso completely lost it," Clagett said. "He completely overreacted."

Margaret Addis, who works for the council, said she didn't see a punch. "From what I saw from my angle, it just looked like a friendly grab of the arm," Addis said. "I didn't see him even reach up towards his face."

Bruso acknowledged Wednesday that he punched Miller, but he said it was a reflex reaction.

Miller said yesterday that the allegations appear to be motivated by "political animosity."

Lisa McMurray, a spokesman for Miller, said Bruso was a supporter of Ron Miller, the Senate president's GOP opponent in the Nov. 7 elections.

Two sources familiar with both men, who asked not to be identified for fear of upsetting the politically powerful Miller, said they were not surprised to learn of the alleged altercation because of the acrimony between the two men, who are known to have short fuses.

Some say the bad blood stems from Bruso's close ties to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Last year, Bruso, a registered Democrat, and his wife contributed $8,000 to Ehrlich's campaign.

Others say Bruso, who was organizing a fundraiser for Ron Miller the day before the incident, had blamed Senator Miller for legislation that restricts development along the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where Bruso has projects.

In charging documents filed Wednesday after the courthouse closed, Bruso said he did "nothing to provoke this attack. Apparently my political positions offend him. He has seen me at other political functions."

Staff writer Ruben Castaneda and staff researcher Rena Kirsch contributed to this report.

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