When Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s chief counsel has something on his mind, his practice is to put it in writing.
So in recent weeks, when Jervis S. Finney's attention turned to the work of the special legislative committee that is investigating his boss's personnel practices, he began firing off letters. Love notes, these are not.
Legislative leaders have said the missives have been belittling, at times insulting and, for long stretches, indecipherable. Now, the legislative committee's co-chairs, Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) and Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), say they want Finney's letters to stop.
"I'm done corresponding with this man," said Middleton, who said he has received two of Finney's letters in the past two days. "He's become very petty. To him, it's a little teeny, petty game."
In one correspondence with Middleton, Finney requests, "Please tell me who wrote the letter with/for you?" In another, Finney says: "Governor Ehrlich respects the law, tells the truth, and seeks the truth. It is our hope that you and your colleagues will now pursue the same course."
Finney's office referred questions to Henry Fawell, a spokesman for the governor, who said Middleton had no business objecting to the letters.
"It's not Counselor Finney's problem if Sen. Middleton and this committee have such a strong distaste for the facts," he said.
Middleton is not the only one who has recoiled after receiving a barrage of correspondence from Finney. For several weeks this summer, Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) was on the wrong side of the general counsel's pen. Frosh described the correspondence, with its circuitous language and run-on sentences, as being "a little bit like having the Mad Hatter as a pen pal."
Jones, another recipient, said the letters have become a tiresome distraction. And distractions might be the last thing the committee can tolerate right now, members said, given the slow pace of its work.
The panel spent two hours yesterday being briefed on the minutiae of Maryland personnel laws and procedures, but it has not hired an outside attorney or started to formally review complaints from veteran state bureaucrats who contend they were fired when Ehrlich took office solely because they are Democrats.
With Finney leading the efforts, Republicans have endeavored not only to debunk that premise but also to bog down the committee's work at every turn.
Two weeks ago, the 12-member panel spent five hours haggling over concerns raised by Republicans, such as whether witnesses could be contacted by e-mail and how much notification members must receive before the next meeting.
On Wednesday, Finney called reporters to his office to reiterate the governor's interest in cooperating with the committee. He released a stack of documents that included a complete set of personnel records for one state employee -- Vincent J. Gardina -- who was fired from his $55,000-a-year job, in which he worked on dredging projects at the Maryland Environmental Service.
Gardina, a Democrat on the Baltimore County Council, sued the governor, contending that he was dismissed solely because of his political affiliation. The state settled the suit for $100,000 before the question could be resolved.
Recently released e-mails show that Gardina's dismissal was approved by a top Ehrlich aide. Some lawmakers have cited those e-mails, along with the hefty settlement, as evidence that the governor personally oversaw a purge of Democrats from state government. They have predicted that Gardina could be a key witness in legislative hearings, if they ever get underway.
But in Finney's latest letters to Middleton and Jones, he writes that Gardina's personnel files prove he was not fired for his political views.
"Not one of these documents shows or reflects that, not one." Finney writes. "It thus seems to us that Mr. Gardina is a mistaken poster-child for your so-called Special Committee."
Middleton said he did not care to hear Finney's opinion anymore. The committee, he said, is moving methodically. The committee is reviewing the state's laws and policies; it will then seek to hear from former employees and will conclude whether laws need to be changed to address shortcomings.
That can all be done, Middleton said, "without turning this into a street fight."
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.