Just because there were 100 pounds of corn kernels scattered around an Eastern Shore chicken yard, less than half a mile from the sport where Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal was goose-hunting, it doesn't mean that Pascal was hunting in a baited field, a federal judge ruled here today.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Dorsey Watkins thereupon acquitted Pascal and three companions of the charges that they had violated federal hunting laws. The government, Watkins said, had not proved that the corn kernels actually enticed any geese into the area.
Outside the courtroom, a jubilant Pascal held an impromptu press conference to announce that he will be hunting geese on the same Kent County farm again this year - a farm closed down to hunters after Pascal's arrest last October.
"I'll tell the (game) wardens where I'm going to go and let them check it out first," Pascal said.
"I just want to make sure they know where I am and everything's OK. I'll be hunting geese long after my political career is over."
The five-day nonjury trial was marked by bursts of unabashed laughter last week as the 76-year-old jurist engaged in such unjudicial antics as flapping the black folds of his judicial robe to demonstrate how a goose flies.
This is the third time Pascal has been arrested for hunting violations. In 1970 and 1973 he paid fines for hunting over live decoys and hunting in a baited field.
When Pascal and his companions were arrested Oct. 30, 1976, for hunting near the corn strewn chicken yard, they vowed to fight the charges in court "for the principle of the thing," instead of paying the $500 fine.
Pascal's condefendants, his hunting buddies for the past three years, were Dominic N. Fornaro, head of the Maryland-District of Columbia AFLCIO; Elmer F. Daubert Jr., of Pasadena, Md., a sporting goods store owner, and Albert Schultz, a construction superintendent from Hanover, Md.
Also standing trial with them was the farmer who had rented his 175 acre corn and chicken farm to Pascal for the last four years, Joseph W. Ashley, 61, of Rock Hall. Because he had let the daily feed for his 300 chickens accumulate into a large pile, he was charged with baiting the field and faced up to a $2,000 fine and two years in jail.
During testimony last week Assistant U.S. Attorney John W. Sheldon questioned agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an unsuccessful attempt to prove that corn for Ashley's chickens attracted the geese to the blinds where Pascal and his friends were hunting.
One of the wildlife agents sand he watched as Pascal ran around the blinds throwing corn out into nearby fields and unwittingly chasing away geese that were "eyeing him up." Pascal testifield he was doing this to be extra careful about avoiding possible violations, in light of his two prior convictions.
Judge Watkins noted today that Pascal's actions in throwing out the corn was the "strongest evidence of good faith that can be found."
Watkins said testimony from the agents showed "thousands of geese flying in all directions" and "none (of the agents) was able to track a goose flying over the blinds" to the chicken yard.