Two appointees of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who are at the center of a standoff between him and top Democrats, must be paid the salaries that the state began withholding this summer, an Anne Arundel County judge ruled on Thursday.
Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth ordered Treasurer Nancy Kopp (D) to retroactively pay former planning secretary Wendi Peters and acting health secretary Dennis Schrader their salaries and benefits dating back to July 1.
Hours after Silkworth's ruling, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who represents Kopp in the lawsuit, filed a notice of appeal.
"This was always a case that would be settled in the appellate court," Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for Frosh said. She declined to respond to any other questions about the ruling.
Peters and Schrader stopped receiving their paychecks following a contentious battle with Senate Democrats over the confirmation of their appointments.
Hogan nominated Peters and Schrader to their positions in 2016, while the legislature was adjourned.
He withdrew Schrader's nomination late in the 2017 session. At the time, his spokesman, Doug Mayer, said the governor did not expect action on the nomination because the Senate committee had not scheduled a vote on it. Hogan withdrew Peters' nomination after the Senate panel rejected her as unqualified, a description that the governor's office vigorously disputes.
After the session ended, the governor reappointed Peters and Schrader in acting capacities. They were paid until June 30, the end of the 2017 fiscal year. Kopp refused to pay them after that date, citing budget language approved by the Democratically-controlled General Assembly that bars paying appointees whose recess appointments are not acted on by the end of the legislative session.
At that point, Mayer offered more details for why Hogan had pulled Schrader's nomination, saying Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) threatened to kill the appointment unless Hogan forced the state hospital commission to block a new cardiac program at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The program was seen as potentially jeopardizing a hospital project that Miller supports in Prince George's. Miller denied making the threat.
In his ruling, Silkworth called Maryland's budget language an "impermissible attempt to legislate . . . It also seeks to limit the Governor's recess appointment authority, which it cannot do."
After about a month of working without pay, Peters and Schrader filed the lawsuit. Schrader's annual salary is $174,417. Peters, who was reassigned in September to another position that does not require Senate confirmation, was getting a salary of $137,749.
"Cabinet officers cannot be compelled by the legislature to work for free," said Timothy Maloney, an attorney for Peters and Schrader. "It violates the separation of powers, and inhibits the governor's constitutional authority to make recess appointments."
Maloney said he hoped the state would change its mind about appealing. "This whole exercise has been a huge distraction from the orderly administration of government, and an ever larger waste of taxpayer money," he said.
Mayer also called for an end to the saga, saying it was "far past time . . . to stop this sad political game."
Through a spokesman, Miller referred questions to Frosh's office.