'Twas the day before Christmas vacation, a slow day for Montgomery County's government and courthouse offices. County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist planned to do some last-minute Christmas shopping before leaving with his family for a week in San Francisco. Information officer Charles Maier planned to take his office staff to Christmas lunch before driving to New York.
Then in charged Robin Ficker -- attorney, outgoing state delegate and advocate of lonely causes -- this time championing lower telephone rates for upcounty residents.
Ficker was trying to get himself named as an intervenor in a complex court suit lodged against the county by the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. He proceeded with a flurry of legal maneuvers that shattered the day's serenity and threatened to hold several county officials and reporters hostage in Rockville over the Christmas holidays.
As the maneuvering unfolded, Ficker ended up accusing a Circuit Court judge of being too biased to hear the case, charging the county with being in collusion with the telephone company, and threatening to force two reporters for a county newspaper to take the witness stand and potential witnesses to interrupt next week's vacations.
Ficker issued subpoenas for Gilchrist, Maier, county lobbyist Blair Lee IV, assistant county attorney Stephen P. Elmendorf and the reporters to testify in a hearing yesterday to hear his request to enter the telephone case.
The only problem was, there were no courtrooms available and all the judges were booked up for the day.
"If we have to spend Christmas here, that's fine with me," warned Ficker, who must enter the case by Monday to keep his telephone issue alive. "The county has been acting like Scrooge all along in this thing."
The problem was solved, at least temporarily, when Maier and Gilchrist were allowed to sign sworn affidavits asserting their position in the case in lieu of testifying personally, and the hearing was rescheduled for Monday.
The subject of the holiday-eve crisis was Ficker's ballot initiative prohibiting the county from doing business with the phone company until the company includes Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village in its local calling area.
Voters approved that initiative in March, over the objection of county officials who said it would create havoc if they were forced to disconnect county telephones.
So those county officials breathed a sigh of relief when C&P last Thanksgiving Eve requested--and received--an injunction against the measure. Ficker was left complaining indignantly that the county and the phone company were in cahoots, and he petitioned to take over the defense of the measure.
That injunction must be appealed within 30 days, giving Ficker until Monday to win his fight to enter the case.
James Garland, attorney for C&P, summed up yesterday with a Latin proverb translated as: "The mountains were in labor and produced a ridiculous mouse."