How is the Charles County government functioning while its top elected official is behind bars?
Without a hitch, say officials of Charles County, where County Commission President Marland Deen is serving a 60-day sentence for a gambling misdemeanor conviction.
"We haven't missed a beat," said County Administrator Christopher W. Chinault. "The county would be remiss if it stopped functioning just because one commissioner is missing.
"The two remaining commissioners constitute a voting majority. . . .Obviously, we miss his input, but fortunately this situation is only temporary."
"His confinement has not interfered with county business," said County Attorney Thomas Hayden, who visits Deen regularly and brings him papers to sign. "Luckily, we have not had anything earthshaking happen."
Deen, 50, a popular Democratic politician who moved to Charles County from Oklahoma 15 years ago, was found guilty two weeks ago of one of 11 misdemeanor gambling charges stemming from his ownership of video poker machines. At the six-day trial, his brother, Wayne, 47, manager of Deen's store here, was found not guilty of 11 identical gambling counts.
Deen was convicted for possession of three illegal gambling machines, which investigators found in a shed behind his store. In all, 40 machines were confiscated countywide.
The arrests followed a six-month investigation into the widespread use in the county of the electronic gambling devices.
Deen's attorney, Richard Sothoron, has requested that Deen be released, on the grounds that the 60-day sentence was "political" and "excessive."
He said the two-month jail term was out of proportion with recent gambling-related penalties meted out to 15 other county residents. They pleaded guilty to paying off customers who won electronic card games on the Hi-Lo Double Up video poker machines kept at their businesses.
Deen and his brother were the only persons who requested a jury trial.
Most of the defendants were given probation before judgment or sentenced to pay fines -- the largest was $23,000.
Six other persons served jail sentences ranging from a few days or weekends to 44 days -- in the case of Donald Robert Owens, said States Attorney Stephen J. Braun.
Owens, who was convicted on 23 misdemeanor gambling counts, was originally sentenced to 90 days and was placed on five years probation, Braun said.
Owens also paid $23,000 in fines. Many defendants had their criminal convictions expunged at reconsideration hearings or after they served the jail time, Braun said.
A motion to reconsider Deen's sentence is scheduled be heard next Tuesday, virtually guaranteeing that he will serve at least a month of his sentence.
In his response opposing Sothoron motion for reconsideration of the sentence, deputy special prosecutor Gerald C. Ruter, argued that Deen had a duty as an elected official to "conduct his affairs, both personal and public, in accordance with the strictest of standards, and in compliance with the laws of Maryland which he took an oath to defend."
Sothoron said Ruter's stand is a new one and "runs contrary" to the prosecution's contention during the trial that Deen was not being charged as a public official but as a private citizen and owner of Deen's Little Store.
"Now they're saying he should be punished simply because he is an elected politician," Sothoron charged. "Frankly it's an outrage. . . . There was no evidence to indicate this was a political corruption trial."
But Circuit Court Judge C. Clarke Raley said that it was "ultimately, a case of corruption" in a tongue-lashing just before he sent Deen off to jail. Raley said the sentence would give the county and its citizens a "catharsis."
Deen, who makes $24,000 a year as president of the County Commissioners, is the only one of the three commissioners who works full-time. The other two, Loretta Nimmerichter and Eleanore Carrico are paid $17,000 a year. Deen's only other income source is the country store his brother Wayne runs in Waldorf, Md.
County Commissioner Nimmerichter said last week that she and Carrico have not split or tied their votes during Deen's absence.
"If that situation should arise and we know Marland feels very strongly, we'll probably postpone action until he gets out,' she said. "But we are three conservatives, and we very rarely have strong disagreements."
"I have 24 years in public office and Eleanor has 14," Nimmerichter said.
"So we are not new at this. We are doing beautifully."
Nimmerichter said that although a local newspaper has called for Deen to resign, there is nothing in the county's charter requiring him to step down.
Most residents think Marland's been treated quite unfairly," she maintained. " . . .I am quite sure it won't hurt him in the least politically."
A family member said Deen is "comfortable" in the cell he shares with another prisoner, but anxious to get back to his office where he can interact directly with the public.
Al Hanulik, director of the county detention center, said Deen has received no special treatment or privileges. "He is being treated no differently than any other prisoner," Hanulik said.