A defense attorney for Maryland Del. Tiffany T. Alston said Tuesday that charges of theft and misconduct in office appear to have been brought against her in retaliation for opposing a redistricting plan proposed by the governor.
The assertion of J. Wyndal Gordon, an attorney for Alston (D-Prince George’s), came on the opening day of a trial in which the delegate is accused of using $800 in legislative funds to pay an employee of her private law firm who prosecutors say did no work in Annapolis.
Alston contends that the employee was paid for legitimate legislative work done in an office in her district.
The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor started its investigation in mid-October, about the time Alston’s opposition to a plan developed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to redraw congressional districts — as is required by law every 10 years — became known. Alston was among those who said that the new map did not provide adequate minority representation.
“We find it more than a coincidence that these things occurred in such temporal proximity,” Gordon told reporters during a court recess.
“The facts could align themselves to be consistent with that,” he added
He made a similar comment in open court while arguing a motion before the jury was selected.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt and a spokeswoman for O’Malley (D) vigorously disputed any connection between Alston’s position on redistricting and the charges.
“It’s unfortunate that she’s using this as an opportunity to deflect attention from her ongoing issues,” said O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.
Davitt, who was appointed by O’Malley, said his office “in no way makes decisions based on the governor’s office” and did not hear anything from O’Malley’s office before investigating the case.
A separate case is also pending against Alston on charges that include improperly using $3,560 in campaign funds to pay for her wedding expenses. A separate trial on those charges is scheduled for October.
During her brief stint in Annapolis, Alston has perhaps become best known for her decision to oppose a same-sex marriage bill last year after first agreeing to be a co-sponsor.
This year, she voted for a similar bill, providing a key vote on the floor of the House of Delegates. Alston said she had concluded that the issue should be decided by voters. An ongoing petition drive is expected to put the issue on the ballot in November.
During his opening statement to an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury Tuesday, Davitt said that prosecutors had learned of Alston’s alleged theft from an employee in her private law office.
The employee relayed that Alston was using funds from the legislature to pay her in January 2011, shortly after Alston took office. At the time, Davitt said, Alston’s law firm was struggling to pay its bills and had several checks returned.
Davitt warned jurors that the employee, Rayshawn Ford, had since become reluctant to cooperate with prosecutors and that it was unclear what she would say in coming days when called to the stand.
Gordon, during his opening statement, said that Ford did some legislative work for Alston in her district office in Prince George’s and that there was no reason she would have been in Annapolis on any regular basis.
Gordon made no mention to jurors of Alston’s redistricting opposition, but he said the case amounted to “the punishment of an independent-thinking legislator.”
“This entire case is a waste of time,” Gordon said.