Political differences between the Prince George's County Council and Executive Lawrence J. Hogan entered the legal realm last week when the council decided to appoint its own lawyer, instead of the official county attorney hired by Hogan, to represent it in a suit against the county government.
The council acted as a result of a suit filed by Garfinckel's department store which would force Hogan to support a state-backed $4.5 million loan for the company. The council has already approved the loan.
Hogan has opposed the loan, which would be used by Garfinckel's to finance a warehouse in the county, ever since last summer when company officials reported that Hogan had apparently offered to give his approval if Garfinckel's donated $87,000 to charitable organizations in which the executive was interested.
Council members at the time charged that Hogan was trying to blackmail the firm and shortly after Garfinckel's decided against making the donation. Hogan has said he would not support the loan because Garfinckel's was proposing to build "just another warehouse," which is not the type of development he would like to encourage in the county.
Despite Hogan's stated posture on the loan, the County Council gave its approval late last year and directed the executive's office to sign the appropriate paperwork and forward it to the state agency which helps finance such loans.
Hogan refused to heed the council's directions and in January Garfinckel's filed suit against both Hogan and the council to force the county government to implement the council's directive.
"There are two issues involved," said council administrator Samuel Wynkoop Jr. "One is whether the office of law can represent the interests of both the council and the executive in this case and the council decided no. The other is, who controls. If the council votes for something, can the executive refuse to implement it."
According to both council members and Garfinckel's, state law on the loan process requires Hogan to endorse the loan once the the council has voted its approval.
"We think state law gives the council the authority to sign the (state-backed) loans and Hogan has to sign it. He has no discretion on the matter," said Garfinckel's attorney John McDonough.
However, county attorney Robert Ostrom said, "The county executive has maintained a consistent posture on this. He does not approve of the loan and he believes it takes two to tango: The council can approve it but he has the right to veto it."
Because of the difference of legal opinion between the council and Hogan, the council last week decided to name its own legal counsel, a move that Ostrom said he believes is unnecessary.
"Their point of view will be represented by Garfinckel's. There are only two sides, the Garfinckel's side and Hogan's side," Ostrom said.
Although council members have said that Garfinckel's, by arguing in favor of the council legislation supporting the loan, will represent the council point of view, they also believe they must have their own lawyer to represent them on other aspects of the case, such as preventing unnecessary delays.
"The feeling was that the county attorney does not represent our interests in this case and Garfinckel's represents only part of it," said Wynkoop. "Garfinckel's could at some point turn around and sue each council member for damages if the case is indefinitely delayed because of legal actions by the county attorney. The council simply felt it was necessary to make sure all its interests were looked after."