A fundraiser hosted last week by Annapolis lawyer Richard L. Jaklitsch netted tens of thousands of dollars for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s reelection campaign. But it appears to have cost Jaklitsch a leadership role in the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association.
On Friday, a day after the fundraiser at his home, Jaklitsch said he was "excommunicated" from the board of the organization, which clashed with Ehrlich (R) last year over medical malpractice legislation.
Representatives of the trial lawyers group said that Jaklitsch made the decision to resign and that he was not pushed out because of his politics. But e-mails shared with The Washington Post show several leading board members agitating to oust him, with one acknowledging the move might appear "unamerican."
"If Rick refuses . . . a graceful effort, then I am resolute about making a motion to remove him from the board," said an e-mail that Wayne M. Willoughby, the group's treasurer, sent to a dozen other group leaders the day of Jaklitsch's fundraiser.
"I will second Wayne's motion," said another widely disseminated e-mail, sent by David F. Albright Jr., the group's vice president. "Rick cannot be trusted. He told none of us about the fundraiser."
John C. Reith, the finance director for Ehrlich's campaign, called the episode "troubling." "The governor's political opponents have again demonstrated utter intolerance for people with different views," Reith said.
In an interview, Jaklitsch said that he was reluctant to talk about the matter and that he maintains respect for the organization. But Jaklitsch, a Republican with a personal injury practice in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, said he has a fundamental disagreement with those who see Ehrlich as a nemesis.
"I hoped that another tack might be more successful," Jaklitsch said. "Instead of fighting with the governor, work with the governor."
A similar tack has been taken recently by one of the state's most prominent trial lawyers, Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and a generous donor to Democrats, who hosted Ehrlich last night at Camden Yards and is planning a fundraiser for him later.
Jaklitsch said his $1,000-per-person fundraiser drew about 80 people, including many lawyers. The governor and first lady Kendel Ehrlich attended.
Bruce Plaxen, a former president of the trial lawyers group, said he talked with Jaklitsch about resigning and was perplexed by his characterization of what occurred as an excommunication.
"We certainly didn't force him off the board," Plaxen said. "We wouldn't push somebody off the board for political reasons. . . . In the discussions I had with Rick, we never discussed the governor's fundraiser."
In an e-mail last week to several other board members, Alison D. Kohler, the group's president, wrote that she had cautioned Jaklitsch about "the embarrassment" of hosting a fundraiser for a "governor who has made his business to try to put us out of business and close the courthouse doors."
During last year's medical malpractice debate, Ehrlich pushed several measures to curb payouts to plaintiffs and limit lawyers' fees.
In pressing for Jaklitsch's removal, Willoughby wrote: "I realize that some of our members might hold the opinion that this is unamerican -- punishing a person for exercising his free speech rights. I believe such a view is misguided. The first amendment only applies to government actors -- we are a private organization with stated goals and objectives.
"As such it would be irrational to maintain someone on our board who has demonstrated through his actions that he does not share the organization's goals and objectives."