With Maryland lawmakers about to convene the first meeting of a special investigative committee to look into the governor's personnel practices, the political jockeying in Annapolis has reached a new level of intensity.
Much of that has been out in the open, with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) sending a series of acidic exchanges that appear to be aimed at shaping the public's opinion of the looming personnel investigation.
But there also have been quiet exchanges between leading lawmakers and the office of Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) to help each party plot strategy for the looming investigation -- the first of its kind since lawmakers probed allegations of Baltimore police abuses 30 years ago.
In a July 19 letter to Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch, Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (Somerset) hunted for legal weaknesses in the foundation the Democrats have laid for their inquiry.
For instance, the senator asked whether legislators, including the special committee co-chairman, Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), could be disqualified because they hold public-sector jobs, which could "impair their independence of judgment" of state personnel matters.
Stoltzfus also hinted that, if the committee is empowered to issue subpoenas, GOP members have some of their own they wish to send out -- possibly including ones to compel other members of the General Assembly to testify.
Asked to explain the request, Stoltzfus said in an interview, "We believe that certain members of the General Assembly might have some information that would be very enlightening about certain personnel matters."
Zarnoch replied that any subpoena, no matter the recipient, would have to be approved by a majority on the special committee -- meaning the four GOP members on the 12-person panel would be unlikely to have the clout to issue their own directives.
Committee member Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) also exchanged letters with Zarnoch to inquire whether any legal agreement prevented the governor from discussing a particular legal case -- the lawsuit that former Baltimore County Council member Vincent Gardina (D) filed after being fired from his state job. The governor's office settled the case for $100,000, saying it would be less costly than litigating the dispute.
When asked about the case on WBAL radio last month, Ehrlich said, "Nothing can be discussed about that . . . because the terms of that are closed, and my lawyer, Joe Curran, has instructed us we cannot talk about it."
"This is inaccurate," Zarnoch wrote in his reply to Frosh. "The Attorney General has had no communication with the governor or any member of his office on this subject. But there is no legal prohibition that prevents the governor or other Administration officials from discussing this case."
So what's the truth? As it turns out, there's no easy answer. Henry Fawell, the governor's spokesman, said Ehrlich merely was following the advice of Margaret Ann Nolan, chief of civil litigation for the attorney general, who said elements of the case may be subject to executive or attorney-client privilege.
But Nolan said her caution to the governor was routine and not nearly as far-reaching as implied by Ehrlich's blanket assertion on the radio.
Angelos Will Host Ehrlich Fundraiser
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, a prolific donor to Democrats, will hold a fundraiser for Ehrlich's 2006 reelection bid, according to the governor's aides.
Angelos, who made millions as a trial lawyer, will first honor Ehrlich at a Sept. 27 "meet and greet" event at Camden Yards when the Orioles play the New York Yankees. Angelos first told the Gazette newspapers last week that Ehrlich had been very supportive during negotiations with Major League Baseball over moving the Montreal Expos to Washington.
Angelos, who did not return a phone call from The Washington Post, said the date of the fundraiser for Ehrlich will be determined later.
In November 2003, Angelos helped organize a fundraiser for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat seeking to unseat Ehrlich next year. Jody Couser, a spokeswoman for Duncan's campaign, said the county executive remains hopeful that Angelos will support him, too.
Angelos has feuded with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, another possible Democratic hopeful for governor.