Lawyer in Md. suit says political favors 'not unlawful'

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 1, 2010

Maybe Daniel Karp had seen too many episodes of "The Wire."

In a recent court filing in defense of a Prince George's County lawmaker, Karp proffers that asking for campaign contributions in exchange for votes is politics as usual. An everyday occurrence.

"A politician's request for campaign fund raising assistance or donations in exchange for a political favor or vote is similarly not unlawful or independently wrongful," he wrote on behalf of County Council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills). Knotts is a defendant in a lawsuit over a lease for county office space that alleges Knotts shook down the offices' developer. In the end, the county never considered the lease.

"Unfortunately, it is something that occurs daily in the political arena," Karp's brief says.

"What? That's absolutely wrong. . . . That's the definition of bribery," said University of Maryland Law School professor Abraham Dash.

According to the state code, "A public employee may not demand or receive a bribe, fee, reward or testimonial to influence the performance of the official duties of the public employee or neglect or fail to perform the official duties of the public employee."

Karp said that because this is a civil suit -- in which damages are being sought -- he simply is letting the court know that the case has no merit.

"My comment in the motion is if this occurred, it is something that happens in political life, but not illegal in the sense of giving rise to tort liability," Karp said in an interview. The motion is "not an admission and it is not an apology. It is to address the specific allegations that have been raised. We don't admit that they have occurred. . . . I have no reason to believe anything occurred."

Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School, said it isn't a defense he would favor.

"It's almost an admission that it happens all the time, and it does seem like what they are saying is, 'It is not a big deal,' " Warnken said.

Jonathan S. Shurberg, the attorney for the plaintiff in the case, said he was also taken aback by Karp's assertions.

"I know how politics works and it's not always pretty," Shurberg said, "but that's not the way politics works or is supposed to work. And I've never seen anything like this in my experience."

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