MARYLAND

Officials May Seek Drought Disaster Aid

The worst drought in decades could prompt the federal Farm Service Agency to seek a disaster declaration for some Maryland farmers as early as next month, an agency official said yesterday.

Such a declaration would make this the third straight year in which dry weather has cut crop production deeply enough to trigger federal assistance in the region.

"The process has already begun as far as collecting the data to substantiate drought conditions," said Connie Byler-Hsu, program specialist for the Maryland Farm Service Agency in Columbia.

She said the agency, a division of the U.S. Agriculture Department, will convene a meeting of the Maryland Emergency Board sometime in August to review the data.

Dump Owner Sues Former Attorney

William Mossburg Jr., a bankrupt North Potomac dump owner, has filed a $50 million malpractice suit against his former attorney, Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

Mossburg alleged in the suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, that Bereano failed to defend him adequately after the county sought $2.6 million to cover the cost of putting out a fire at Mossburg's refuse site.

In a telephone interview, Bereano said the lawsuit is a "publicity stunt" and a "shakedown." He said that he and Mossburg ended their relationship amicably in 1995 and that Mossburg still owes him nearly $10,000 in legal fees.

Mossburg was a key witness during the murder-for-hire trial of former U.S. Senate candidate Ruthann Aron, testifying that she approached him about finding someone to kill her husband.

Bereano was convicted of fraud in 1994 for overbilling clients and using the money to make campaign contributions. He recently finished serving a five-month sentence in a halfway house.

VIRGINIA

Deputy Accidentally Shot by Another

A deputy sheriff in Martinsville was shot in the right hip when a fellow deputy's .40-caliber Beretta accidentally discharged in the city courthouse.

David Floyd and Bobby Branch, who are both bailiffs, were standing in the hallway behind the courtroom Monday afternoon when Branch's gun went off in Floyd's direction.

Authorities say the bullet went straight through Floyd's right hip without damaging any major organs. Floyd was treated at a hospital and released.

Sheriff Steve Draper called the shooting an "unfortunate accident" and said the deputies have been friends for years.

Loudoun's Bond Rating Upgraded

Loudoun County's bond rating has been upgraded by Moody's Investors Service, and county officials said yesterday that the change will save Loudoun as much as $10 million a year.

Moody's raised the county's rating to Aa1, one step below its top Aaa rating. Although Moody's said the county's rapid growth rate "will challenge county officials," the service praised Loudoun's planning and a strong local economy.

The step will save taxpayers $5 million to $10 million in costs to borrow money to finance the county's capital improvements program, said County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers.

Council of Higher Education Chief Resigns

William B. Allen resigned unexpectedly yesterday as executive director of the State Council of Higher Education. Allen, an aggressive advocate of making state university funding dependent in part on a school's performance, said he was leaving for "professional reasons" unrelated to state education policy.

Council staff members said the announcement was a surprise. Allen indicated that no one pressured him to resign and said he planned to remain until a successor was selected.

Although aides to Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) were cautious in their support of the controversial plan by Allen to impose university performance standards, Gilmore spokesman Mark A. Miner said the governor had no role in Allen's departure. Miner noted that Allen was appointed by the 11-member council, not the governor, and said Gilmore "does thank him for his service."

THE DISTRICT

65 Schools to Continue Serving Meals

The D.C. school system will keep 65 of its school buildings open for three weeks after summer school ends Aug. 6 to continue serving free breakfasts and lunches to low-income children until the regular school year begins, a schools spokeswoman said.

Currently, meals are being served at 132 schools, plus about 100 other sites across the city.

Officials with the Capital Area Food Bank, which coordinates the massive feeding program, have accused School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman of reneging on a promise to keep all schools open for feeding throughout the summer.

Schools spokeswoman Denise Tann said more school sites could be opened if the food bank reports that some needy youngsters are not being served. She said the school system so far has received no such complaints.

For a list of the 65 feeding sites, which will be posted at all schools within two weeks, call the food bank's hot line at 202-639-9770.

19th-Century Agnostic to Be Honored

A group of secular humanists will lay a wreath today at the grave of their hero, the 19th-century agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll, in Arlington National Cemetery, a spokesman for the group said.

The 2:30 p.m. event is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ingersoll's death, said the spokesman, David A. Henley.

Ingersoll, who was born in Dresden, N.Y., and later lived in Washington's Lafayette Square, gained acclaim through his public lecture tours assailing religion and promoting his agnostic views.

He attained the rank of colonel in the Civil War and eventually became a prominent Republican Party member. The wreath-laying will be in Section D of the cemetery, Henley said.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"Nobody--nobody--is going to deface my character, and nobody is going to deflect my concentration. I don't care what anybody says--I stand on my record forever, and nobody--nobody--is going to kill my spirit or take away my joy for the work I have done."

--Wilma Harvey, president of the D.C. Board of Education, whom some board members want to remove from the post.

--Page B1