The Legislative Ethics Committee decided last week to drop its brief investigation of Del. John Hargreaves (D-Caroline) for alleged conflict of interest, apparently agreeing with Hargreaves that he has violated neither the letter nor the spirit of the law.

"I think as far as the committee is concerned, the matter has been satisfied and is closed," said Sen. Julian Lapides (D-Baltimore), a co-chairman of the joint committee.

The matter was dropped after Hargreaves, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, sent the committee a three-page, single-spaced typed letter denying that his ownership of stock in an Eastern Shore-trucking firm constituted a conflict of interest with his sponsorship of legislation that would permit trucks to carry heavier loads.

"I have stated to you, under oath and in full compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the law, that I believe my judgement in the case is independent and unimpaired and that my sponsorship and support of the legislation in question is fair, objective and in the public interest," Hargreaves wrote in a March 10 letter made public last week.

The ethics committee reviewed the Hargreaves allegation after a news story in the Baltimore Sun disclosed the Caroline County legislator's ownership of about $144,000 stock in the Preston Trucking Company of Easton.

Noting that his stock ownership represents 0.32 percent of the total Preston shares in public hands, Hargreaves said, "If the effect of the truck weight bill upon the company is miniscule, then surely its benefits to me must be too small to measure."